A growing number of doctors recognizes a comprehensive, preventive approach to health and well-being has the added benefit of helping patients stave off the effects of aging both in how they look and the way they feel.
Anti-aging medicine may not have been widely known as a medical specialty five years ago, but it is becoming more mainstream. The American Academy of Anti-Aging, which trains and certifies physicians in the field, has about 22,000 members in more than 100 countries.
"The idea is that it's a lot easier to prevent a disease than it is to cure it," says Dr. Stephen Metzinger, a plastic surgeon with Aesthetic Surgical Associates, a private practice located inside The Center For Longevity and Wellness in Metairie. "The Center tries to reach patients early on with things like diet, exercise, weight control and stress relief. It's a healthier way of living and feeling better, an overall approach to health and wellness."
The 5,000-square-foot center includes patient treatment areas, a medical spa with massage and skin care services, X-ray and bone scanning facilities, a lab and a shop that sells a variety of health products from blood pressure cuffs to skin care regimens.
Drs. Leonard Kancher, who founded the center, and Gerald Weiner both practice internal medicine and share a mission of providing quality care by seeing fewer patients and spending more time with each. Patients pay an annual membership fee (an expense most insurance companies don't cover), which entitles them to benefits not typically associated with doctors' offices. Patients are given their doctor's home and cell phone numbers and are guaranteed 24-hour access and same-day service in an environment that more closely resembles a spa than a clinic. When patients arrive, they are greeted with relaxing music, soothing scents, a warm towel and the serene sound of a waterfall in the reception area.
Fifteen years ago, Dr. Kathleen Posey's personal experience with illness led her to pursue the same sort of integrative ideal — an East-meets-West approach to medicine that considers the physical, emotional and spiritual components of total well-being. An obstetrician/gynecologist, Posey went to seven doctors in search of answers about her own health and ultimately decided to change the way she practices medicine as a result. Today, Posey is certified in anti-aging and regenerative medicine as well as gynecology.
"I started this journey because of being diagnosed with a mixed connective tissue disorder and osteoarthritis, and no one could help me," she says. While Western medicine is designed to diagnose and treat disease, Posey says her area of specialization — what she refers to as "functional medicine" — focuses on assessing the individual to determine what is out of balance and causing health problems, whether it be lifestyle, environmental, nutritional or genetic issues. "We go back and look at the basic sciences," she says. "Instead of jumping to diagnosis and treatment, we want to get to the patient early enough so we can prevent the disease."
Posey's practice is devoted largely to women's health and wellness (though she does treat men), particularly menopausal health care, natural hormone replacement therapy — a topic that has been covered in the media recently because of high-profile proponents such actress Suzanne Somers — and related issues like weight gain. Posey is incorporating into her practice patches endorsed by Somers to alleviate pain and increase antioxidant levels without pharmaceuticals.
Fatigue is the No. 1 complaint Posey hears from patients in their 50s. She believes men and women of that age experience declining levels of hormones and both genders can benefit from hormone replacement. Posey, who currently practices on the Northshore but plans to open an office in New Orleans' Central Business District this year, says baby boomers and subsequent generations are more aware of hormone replacement options than previous generations, and about 40 percent of female boomers take hormones. Posey is a proponent of natural, bioidentical hormones rather than synthetic versions, which she believes have contributed to higher incidents of breast cancer. (Bioidentical hormones, made from plants, are identical in structure to human hormones, while synthetics derived from animal sources are not).
There is a cost issue with the new field. Anti-aging medicine is a relatively new discipline and insurance companies have not yet caught up with the idea, therefore some doctors don't even accept insurance. Testing to find what is causing the body to be out of balance can be extensive, and those costs aren't always covered by insurance either.
Supplements regularly prescribed by anti-aging doctors are another cost consideration, but Posey cautions it is nearly impossible to get all the nutrients a person needs through diet alone. "I'm not saying you can't but you have to be a fanatic," she says. Many patients are deficient in vitamins C, D and the B's, she says, but increased awareness of their importance has led to new advancements, such as supplements in the forms of juices and powders that are easier to take.
Despite the costs associated with anti-aging medicine, demand for the specialty is growing. "People are taking notice [of this area of medicine] because they're pumping billions of dollars into this industry and because they want to feel good," Posey says. "It started even before the baby boomers, but the baby boomers want to take charge. They're not willing to just take medicine."
Posey counsels her patients about the importance of relaxation techniques such as meditation and massage, a practice she believes more doctors will embrace over time. "That's part of the whole-package approach," she says. "I think more doctors who treat chronic disease are going to realize that they're going to have to be educated [in anti-aging medicine] or it's going to fall into the hands of nurses and massage therapists," she says.
Dr. Kashi Rai, who practices in Harahan, is a like-minded advocate of looking at a patient's overall health to determine how best to treat them. "The whole premise of medicine is to make people well and be genuinely helpful," she says. "As a physician, my goals aren't much different. The difference is you're not dwelling on a disease model. You're trying to be as proactive as possible and correcting any health disturbance that you can. We want to get people to their best [health]. You can't do that unless you take all aspects of a person's life into consideration."
Rai and her associate Dr. Nancy Martin are both certified in anti-aging medicine. But Rai, who also is a diplomat of the Institute of Family Medicine and is certified in family practice, has patients ranging in age from 3 to 93. When she started practicing medicine, her patients were predominantly women 45 and older, but gradually those patients began sending their husbands and children to see her. Today, she says, patients in the 20- to 30-year-old range seek her out on their own.
"To me that says that there's much more awareness in our area," Rai says. "They're coming in and saying, 'My hormones are not quite right,' and they're interested in what they can do to enhance fertility."
Rai says she works hard to make her services affordable. Insurance often covers blood work, at least partially, and she tailors the use of supplements to her patients' budgets. "We have supplements that are not expensive, some that are medium priced and some that are expensive," she says. "We work with patients. We're very individual-oriented and we strive to make it feasible for them."
As physicians and patients alike get older, Dr. Raul Llanos — whose credentials include board certification in obstetrics, gynecology, anti-aging and regenerative medicine, as well as being one of the founders of the American Board of Holistic Medicine — says the anti-aging revolution (which also includes a full spectrum of cosmetic procedures from lasers to surgery) will continue to advance and become more popular.
"I don't think there is any way of going back," he says. "People are more conscious about well-being and how to feel better."
Rai adds that more people are looking for alternatives to traditional approaches. "I see so many people with chronic disease states and they just are not getting better," she says. "They're looking for another approach to treat whatever their condition is.
"I think there's something phenomenal going on here [in New Orleans]. The level of awareness and education has really increased in the last 10 years. State-of-the-art technologies do exist here."