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Truth and lies of the anti-aging business

By Rosa Colucci
Post Gazette

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  • Nonfiction

    Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging

    Lauren Kessler

    Rodale, 256 pages



Have you ever found yourself glued to television infomercials that promise miracle fat-fighting after 40, P90X abs or creams that make you look better at 48 than you did at 28 and wondered, “Should I buy it?”

You may want to stop at the bookstore first.

Journalist Lauren Kessler took a yearlong journey, making herself a guinea pig to all those claims. Her book, “Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging,” attempts to shine a light on the anti-aging movement and the billion-dollar industry that it feeds, stripping away fiction from fact and interviewing experts. She laughs at herself a lot and dares to ask the hard questions we’re afraid to ask – in an attempt to prolong our years.

She started by getting a thorough examination to determine her biological age, testing the function of her heart, lungs, arteries, etc., at some of the most cutting-edge labs where elite athletes and scientists collide to uncover what makes those bodies tick. At year’s end, she had more testing, to see whether she had turned back the clock and by how much.

Your ‘real’ age

The book is easily managed through chapters that mine the experts on everything from the latest plastic surgery to the frontier science of biomarkers – characteristics that can be measured to indicate the body’s normal processes and the presence of disease. They tell you how old you really are where it counts – on the inside. Kessler breaks down the 10 that are the gold standard of age and how biomarkers like blood pressure, cholesterol, strength and BMI really tell a story. She even takes all of those online tests (including the RealAge test from “The Dr. Oz Show”) and suggests the ones she says are worth your time.

Elsewhere, she sorts the wheat from the chaff about vitamins, examining information from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University (yep, that’s the vitamin-C guy’s namesake) and their researchers who spill the real deal on supplements such as resveratrol, omega oils and daily pills you may be taking.

Test-driving diets

Kessler follows eating regimens that claim to improve health and extend longevity. Testing each one, she plows through a detox, a cleanse, superfoods, the 500-calorie homeopathic HCG plan (claims to use human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone) and more. Some of the more radical movements, such as the raw diet and calorie restriction, are awful – and even sad – as she describes lifelong devotees dedicating hours each day to preparing meals and subjugating themselves to unrealistic and unhealthful outcomes.

“We eat out of joy, and we eat out of sadness, we eat out of boredom, guilt, love and addiction, we eat to reward and to punish, to celebrate and mourn, to remember and to forget,” she says. “Food is not just food.”

In the end, what and how we consume is a large part of the puzzle of behavior associated with vitality and health. She points to a MacArthur Foundation study that shows that lifestyle choices (70 percent) trump genes (30 percent) in regard to health and longevity. Kessler points out the great divide in our nation of “what we should do vs. what we actually do” when it comes to our health is widening a way that should alarm readers, as children are drawn into poor health.

“Counter Clockwise” is chock-full of good info, such as resources to see whether your vitamins are potent and pure, medical testing you should and should not get, exercise classes you may want to bypass and, most of all, a writer who is not afraid to examine the questions we all ask ourselves as we look in the mirror but would never speak in mixed company. It’s money well-spent.

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