Anti-ageing market develops in grey zone
The Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment (TA-Swiss) is warning that the growing market for anti-ageing products needs proper surveillance.
In a report, it says that companies are already trying to cash in demand from people seeking to stave off the effects of time without considering the impact on their health.
TA-Swiss launched its study after realising that current research could lead in a few years time to substances and technologies that could slow the effects of ageing. But also after seeing that there are already products being promoted as anti-ageing with healthy sales.
"Anti-ageing products are in a grey zone between health and nutrition," said Adrian Rüegsegger of TA-Swiss. "When it comes to pharmaceuticals, the regulatory process is clear, but anti-ageing products are often sold as if they have a medical effect even though they do not require any authorisation before going on sale."
With a growing elderly population – and in 40 years time, more than a third will be older than 60 - there is already plenty of demand for these products and the market will continue its expansion according to the assessment centre.
"It's normal for people to want these products as the population ages. That's why we think there should be more regulation of these products," Rüegsegger told swissinfo.
The study focused on whether anti-aging products have any real use, are good for people's health and safe. This includes finding out if a healthy population needs to consume these products in a preventive fashion.
"There is for example not much point in healthy people consuming vitamin supplements if they eat healthily, even if advertising tells them otherwise," said Rüegsegger.
TA-Swiss suggests there are much simpler ways of guaranteeing older people's health. Healthier food choices, exercise and social contact are often enough, the report says, with medications reserved for sick people.
"Nobody has shown that taking pharmaceuticals as a preventive measure has any useful effect," points out Rüegsegger.
"If clinical studies were to show that a product has a useful preventive effect, then it would be a good thing," he added. "The problem is that there is plenty of marketing making such claims, but nothing to back it up."
The report says that part of the anti-ageing process should be the early detection of medical problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes that often crop up as people get older. By identifying existing health conditions, steps can be taken to make sure they do not develop into something worse.
The main recommendations of the study's authors include scrutinising anti-aging products and seeing if they actually have a beneficial effect. "If they do, there is no reason to ban them," added Rüegsegger.
Another recommendation is to not authorise products that present a risk or have no real effect, while better nutrition, exercise, and regular medical check-ups should also be considered as part of the anti-ageing process.
While the report calls for tighter legislation and regulatory processes, including more rigorous controls of products, TA-Swiss warns though that it might be of little value if the effort isn't coordinated internationally.
"These products can also be purchased via internet," said Rüegsegger. "It wouldn't make much sense if Switzerland were the only country to implement an authorisation process."
swissinfo, Scott Capper
Anti-ageing medicine is defined by some specialists as the application scientific and medical technologies for the early detection, prevention and treatment of age-related problems.
According to TA-Swiss, the aim of these processes are to provide people with the best quality of life during their later years, the idea being to age successfully.
The biggest emphasis should be on prevention at an early stage. If injuries occur, they should be "repaired" medically or cosmetically. And elderly people who can no longer fight the ageing process should be helped by electronic aids or robots.
The centre provides discussion papers that are as independent as possible on the opportunities and risks of new technologies.
TA-Swiss, which serves as a study centre for the government's Science and Technology Council, encourages dialogue between citizens and scientists through participative events such as discussion forums.
It also observes scientific trends. Its aim is to identify controversial developments and carry out studies on selected issues.
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