Why Snake Oil Can't Work

We’ve all seen the ads.  Some pill or other form of supplement will “reverse aging.”  If he or she takes some miracle pill, a 60-year old will have the energy and strength of a 30-year old.  Many of these supplements claim to be based on science.  The point of this article is to explain why these miracle anti-aging drugs cannot possibly do what they claim.


A common approach to selling “anti-aging” snake oil is to identify a particular substance (e.g., human growth hormone, or steroids or some chemical that has been associated with mitochondrial biogenesis) that is present in young people but lacking in older humans.  That substance is then linked by association to some aspect of health or aging.  The snake oil salesperson then creates and markets a supplement that will remedy that deficiency.   Why can’t that supplement work?   Isn’t that the approach recommended by the Hypothesis?


Such an approach might be productive if FDS were caused by the lack of just one particular component of the Growth Process.  But FDS is caused by a failure of the entire Growth Process. 


The Growth Process involves the secretion and activation of a cascade of growth factors, hormones, steroids, stem cells and progenitor cells, and other substances.  All of them must be released simultaneously and in the correct proportions in order for the Growth Process to work properly.  Complex X is the gatekeeper, fuel source and regulator of the Growth Process.  Attempts to treat FDS by isolating and correcting individual components of the Growth Process are akin to replacing a single link in a chain when the entire chain is missing. 


In the absence of elevated levels of Complex X in the bloodstream, a host of critical processes will not occur and a host of critical substances will not be released.  Moreover, Complex X is the means whereby all of those processes and substances are coordinated.  It regulates not only whether a particular substance is secreted, but the precise quantity of each.  Each is secreted in proportion to the amount of Complex X in the blood.  Trying to remedy a defective Growth Process by artificially introducing selected substances cannot be sufficient on its own.  Moreover, numerous studies have shown that introducing particular substances in isolation may cause harmful side effects.  Only by correcting the Complex X deficiency can FDS be remedied.

Most, if not all, of the substances involved in the Growth Process are highly volatile and inconsistent with homeostasis.  Thus, the body will not allow those substances to remain in the blood for an extended period of time.  They either act immediately (which is generally not possible in the absence of the other components of the Growth Process) or they are eliminated.


But we’re all familiar with the case of athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs (“PEDs”).  The Institute can’t deny the fact that HGH or steroids can have an obvious effect on athletes.    One way to illustrate why HGH/steroids and other PEDs have a substantial effect on athletes, but a negligible effect on the rest of us, is the following analogy. 


Suppose one were attempting to bake a cake.  Rather than including all of the ingredients that are called for by the recipe in the correct proportions, one could just smash a couple eggs on the counter.  That’s what happens when someone who is not otherwise activating the Growth Process takes a steroid or dose of HGH in isolation.  Pretty much nothing happens other than a sloppy mess.  And that’s what independent studies of anti-aging snake oil have universally concluded.  But athletes who are concurrently activating the Growth Process through intense exercise will be affected by adding HGH or steroids.  It’s like adding additional eggs to a cake recipe.  As long as the athlete is activating the Growth Process through periodic intense exercise, a cake will come out of the oven, and the extra eggs will have an effect on the final product.   The cake will turn out differently because the proportions will be different than what the original recipe called for.  Of course, opinions may differ as to whether the modified recipe is an improvement over the original.