Dr Raquel Sukhbir believes she has found the key to longevity and it lies in anti-ageing medicine.
What is anti-ageing medicine? Is it that fountain of youth man has been seeking for millennia?
Well, to 34-year-old Sukhbir and other proponents of this emerging branch of medicine, it is.
Anti-ageing is defined by worldhealth.net as “a clinical specialty...founded on the application of advanced scientific and medical technologies for the early detection, prevention, treatment, and reversal of age-related dysfunction, disorders, and diseases. It is a healthcare model promoting innovative science and research to prolong the healthy lifespan in humans.”
Yet the debate surrounding this type of medicine is controversial. Stories like Hanneke Hops and Elizabeth Hyat are examples of its contentious nature. Hyat wrote about her experience in a 2010 New York Times article ‘Am I young yet?’ During the fall and winter of 2009 she gave herself daily shots of somatropin, the manufactured form of human growth hormone, or HGH. Hyat saw an overgrowth of moles. A 2012 story on health.com said,“Hanneke Hops wasn’t afraid of dying. What concerned her was growing old and not being able to run marathons, ride horses, or fly planes. So the 56-year-old from Hayward, California turned to Alan Mintz, MD, a radiologist who founded the Cenegenics Medical Institute in Las Vegas, which specialises in age management medicine.
“She was prescribed recombinant human growth hormone (HGH), a synthetic version of a pituitary hormone hawked as a miraculous fountain of youth. Though the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that taking HGH poses serious health risks, Hops, unaware there was any harm, began injecting it into her thigh six times a week.
“She never did grow old. Six months later, in 2004, she was dead, her liver full of malignant tumours,” said health.net
While Sukhbir is aware of these claims, she believes this emerging branch of medicine, safely done, is the answer man has been searching for.
“Some of my colleagues will be sceptical of what I do, because hormone replacement has risks. You cannot be replacing hormones just like that.
“If you are a woman over 50 and you come to see me, I will say, you need to do a mammogram, and if you still have your womb, we will have to access the lining and you have to commit to every year doing breast exams and Pap smears. If you’re a man you will have to have your Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) checked and a digital rectal exam,” Sukhbir said.
The Carenage-born and raised doctor, who left TT in 2010, was trained in human anatomy and biology at King’s College, London and then got her medical degree at Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK. She specialised in internal medicine at St George’s Hospital, London. She then did two years’ specialist training in cardiology at Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospital, UK. Sukhbir also practises echocardiography.
However, seeing the debilitating effects of heart attacks and strokes, particularly in younger patients, led to her further study preventive medicine.
“It was when I was practising cardiology I became distraught at how many 40-something-year-old men were coming in with heart attacks…I started taking a step back from the regular medicine given, and said, ‘I am not helping people’.”
She then became interested in cardiovascular prevention. After returning to TT in 2016, she visited the US three times to do short courses in anti-ageing medicine. She trained with the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and National Procedures Institute, studying anti-ageing medicine, intravenous vitamin therapies and in-office dermatologic procedures.
Having trained there, Sukhbir felt she could truly make a difference. “It is the most passionate I have ever been about anything,” she said.
Anti-ageing medicine is hinged on the theory that as one ages, one’s hormonal balance also changes.
“From puberty into your 20s, your sex hormones – oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone – are at their highest. From the time of 40, they start to decline, and when you reach 60 they are pretty minimal.
“At the same time, because it is all a balance between your sex hormones and stress hormone, cortisol...starts to go up and is compounded by these western stressful lives we lead.”
She said one’s levels of cortisol should vary throughout one’s day, but because of the stressful lives people lead, cortisol levels are always high and also at the wrong times – which affects sleep, and leads to “the pronounced effects of ageing.”
“That is when you start getting your diabetes, your cancer, your, high blood pressure, depression, etc…The practice of anti-ageing medicine is to find out all of these problems before they start damaging your body.”
The practice aims to find out the level of hormones a particular individual has in their body and address it. “It is the practice of medicine where you take into account someone’s symptoms, assess them for low levels, and then you replace those levels of hormones,” she said.
Sukbhir said not only does this slow the ageing process but it also helps one’s body to perform at its peak.
While Sukhbir would not tell a patient they’re likely to live to 100, she would say they could live to 80, being less frail, with energy and the ability to exercise efficiently, while also enjoying a quality sex life.
“You have the internal biochemistry of a 30-year-old when you’re 70,” she said.
She sources and uses “USA triple-accredited and certified” labs to compound bioidentical hormones, and has also created her own brand of nutraceuticals (a neutraceutical is a foodstuff, such as a fortified food or dietary supplement, that provides health benefits in addition to its basic nutritional value) for improving the quality of one’s brain, heart, bones, muscle and sleep health.
Sukhbir has set up her own practice,Gray’s Medical at Alcazar Street, St Clair. She intends to take a holistic approach to the medicine she offers, screening patients before they begin taking hormones for conditions such as cancer. Sukhbir warned that people should be very aware of what they were doing, as simply buying things like testosterone boosters could be injurious to their health. As a doctor, she said, her first job is to keep patients safe.
Gray’s Medical also has a med spa and has teamed with leading medical and therapy institutions to take an all-round approach to finding that fountain of youth.