"Human Growth Hormone Reverses Effects of Aging." No, it wasn't the headline on a supermarket tabloid but a front-page story in many of the nation's leading newspapers and grist for the nightly news. In July, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that human growth hormone can restore some of the physical losses due to age in some men over 60.
Before we stampede in search of the fountain of youth, let's examine the facts. This study enrolled 21 healthy men, 12 of whom received a biosynthetic version of the pituitary growth hormone three times a week for six months. Thus, the study was extremely limited, and most researchers believe that more work is needed before growth hormone should be prescribed for older people.The subjects reported no major health problems, but many medical experts expressed concerns about potential side effects. Excess growth hormone can cause edema, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes and congestive heart failure.
In the study, the biosynthetic hormone was given to replace an older person's diminished production of the natural hormone. As a result, lean body mass (principally muscle) increased and fat tissue decreased, reversing effects incurred over 10 to 20 years of aging.
Many questions remain unanswered. What are the benefits and risks of using human growth hormone over a long period of time? What happens to the body's organs when they're exposed to the hormone? At what age is it safe to start taking the hormone?
Given the possibilities this preliminary study presents, we'll see more research in the future. But years may pass before growth hormone is prescribed for the elderly. - Elyse Salend
QUESTION: As someone who has voted since 1944, it saddens me to hear about low voter turnout during recent elections. What can I do to promote the exercise of this basic right during the November election?
ANSWER: Decreased voter participation is of growing concern. Compared with other major industrialized democracies, the United States ranks low in voter turnout. In recent years, slightly more than half of those eligible to vote did so during presidential elections and many fewer voted in off-year elections.
Although voter turnout is declining overall, it remains high among older people. Besides having more time than younger people to devote to community affairs, many older people are keen observers of the political scene. Through participation in such government programs as Social Security and Medicare, they often recognize their personal stake in election outcomes.
There are a variety of ways to help "get out the vote" in your community. Consider the following:
- Register others to vote. Find out how you can serve in a voter-registration drive by contacting your county registrar of voters.
- Serve on the local electionboard. Offer your home as a polling place on Election Day or serve on a board in your precinct.
- Provide rides to the polls. If you drive, offer a ride to others who may have difficulty getting to their polling place. Your local community center, senior center or political-party office may keep lists of people who need transportation.
- Encourage friends to get involved. If you belong to a club, lodge, civic group or other organization, ask the group to sponsor a forum on voter participation. If you attend worship services, ask the minister, priest or rabbi to mention the importance of voting as Election Day nears.
- Become active in the political party of your choice. The parties usually sponsor voter-registration drives.
- Volunteer your services. If you feel strongly about a particular issue or candidate, volunteer for the campaign.
- Learn more about efforts to increase voter participation. For example, HumanServe (622 W. 113 St., Room 410, New York, NY 10025), a private, non-profit non-partisan organization, is working to make voter registration more accessible. It wants polling places in public or private non-profit agencies such as social-service centers and motor-vehicle offices.