“Anti-aging” has become a popular marketing slogan for medical practices specializing in cosmetic procedures. But it has also become something of a code word for steroids and growth hormones, particularly among bodybuilders and pro athletes.
The Mitchell Report, a 2007 examination of steroid use in Major League Baseball by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, highlighted the popularity of Florida “anti-aging” clinics as a source of illicit steroids and performance-enhancing drugs for ballplayers.
“Some businesses that describe themselves as anti-aging or rejuvenation centers sell steroids or human growth hormone and arrange for buyers to obtain prescriptions for those substances from corrupt or suspended physicians, or even, in some cases, a dentist,” the report said.
Among the clinics cited in the Mitchell Report was South Beach Rejuvenation, a West Palm Beach clinic that marketed steroids through Internet ads and in fitness and bodybuilding magazines. The clinic was founded by Jeffrey George, who, along with his brother, headed a $40 million pill-mill empire built on illegal steroids and prescription painkillers.
George, who is not a doctor, pleaded guilty to trafficking charges in 2011, and he was sentenced to 15½ years in prison. George also pleaded guilty to murder for the overdose death of a patient at one of his pain clinics.
Federal law prohibits the use of steroids for muscle-building, and human growth hormone (hGH) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use by adults only in rare circumstances. “The law is very specific in what you can use it for,” Wadler said.
Nevertheless, an increasing number of South Florida clinics offer treatment with human growth hormone to combat the effects of aging.
For example, the Anti-Aging Group of Miami, an Aventura clinic, offers human growth hormone therapy to treat patients suffering from low energy, increased fat or a slowing sex drive.
“No Energy? Lost Your Libido? Low Hormone Levels May Be the Reason Why,” the company’s website says.
The clinic’s medical director, Dr. Fikri Victor Shabanah, was identified by Sports Illustrated as having supplied steroids to a hurdler on Jamaica’s 2008 Olympic team. Shabanah did not respond to a request for comment.
The ‘silver bullet’
Another local clinic, BioFit Miami off Brickell Avenue, describes human growth hormone as the “Silver Bullet of Life Extension” on its website.
But hGH has never been approved by the FDA as an “anti-aging” treatment. The DEA has described the use of hGH for anti-aging therapy as “illicit.”
“There’s no evidence that growth hormone extends life at all,” said Jay Olshansky, an epidemiology professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and an expert on aging. “It’s kind of amazing what you can put out there without the FDA coming after you.”
Growth hormones may be prescribed only for people suffering from unusual hormone losses — usually as a result of brain trauma — not to prevent the natural decline of these hormones from aging, said Dr. Alejandro Ayala, an endocrinologist at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
“They actually pitch it to the consumer, so the consumer will ask for the hormone. Then it becomes a legalized business,” Ayala said. “This is unethical, and I would say it’s unsafe until science proves otherwise.”