Dr. Patsri Pongsatit Medical Director, Bangkok Hospital Anti-Aging Center
Nearing 60 Wichai Chaichana, as healthy as he thought he was, found himself afflicted with diabetes and high blood cholesterol. Despite a decade of strictly taking drugs to keep his blood sugar and cholesterol levels under control, it was still an active sixties for the retired civil servant who didn't give up all-day golfing with his greyheaded gang.
Now 72, he recently underwent angioplasty with stents (a tube made of wire mesh) to open three narrowed coronary arteries. With heart disease followed by a blood test hinting prostate problems, Wichai deems that it's natural for illnesses to pile up as one gets older, and he's seriously taking greater care of himself to keep him going till his eighties.
With human lifespan extending from 70 to 80 and with experts predicting that the average life expectancy could reach 100 within the next 50 years, are we preparing ourselves for greater longevity? Can we be a septuagenarian like Wichai but without haunting diabetes and heart disease?
Practitioners of anti-aging medicine want to help people be happier and healthier seniors, not to turn back the clock to make grandmas and grandpas rebellious teens again. The anti-aging term however has been widely related to wrinkle removers and miracle creams. Beyond the aesthetic side, this clinical specialty and field of scientific research aims at the early detection, prevention, treatment and reversal of age-related dysfunction, disorders and diseases.
"Aging is inevitable but the anti-ageing approach doesn't mean resisting nature," says Dr Patsri Pongsatit of the Bangkok Hospital Anti-Aging Center one of the country's noted anti-ageing physicians. "We now regard ageing as a disease and the ageing process triggers a host of degenerative diseases: cancer, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's are just a few that we have to watch out for as we get older. However, lifestyle modification, which is a core prescription of anti-aging medicine, can help reduce the risk of developing these age-related diseases.''
Eat right, exercise regularly, get good sleep, cut stress, quit smoking - simple lifestyle prescriptions to carry out but in a hectic world not many busy adults can break bad habits. Start young, adds Dr Patsri, and instil healthy habits in children and teens because it's never too early to adopt an anti-aging lifestyle especially when today's toxic environment accelerates cell damage and speeds up the ageing process. Anti-aging medicine advocates taking supplements to promote optimal body function especially antioxidants vitamin A, C and E to combat free radicals, which contribute to the ageing process and disorders such as heart disease and cancer. Moreover, supplements can be customised to individuals' needs.
This relatively young field of medicine however has stirred some controversy because of its promotion of money-making supplements, its usage of hormone replacement therapy and its support of new biotechnologies like stem cell therapy. "Following evidence-based medicine, low doses of bio-identical hormones are used to normalise the body's hormone balance,'' explains Dr Patsri. "Yes, we are open to innovative science and research that promote a healthy human life span. But we will only embrace it when the science is ready. For example, anti-ageing medicine looks at disease causing genes and through gene therapy - how to suppress them to prevent disorders like heart disease.''
Anti-aging medicine has also been slammed for promoting its three rules of "Don't get sick, Don't get old, Don't die'' as if people could unnaturally live forever. On this note, Dr Patsri personally believes in quality rather than quantity. "Quality of life is more important than the number of years as you don't want to hit 100, disabled in a wheelchair,' she says.