Gerovital (or procaine hydrochloride and products known as GH3 and other variants which may or may not be identical to Gerovital H3) is a controversial preparation developed during the 1950s and promoted by its advocates as an effective anti-aging treatment. During Gerovital's "jet-set" heyday, Gerovital treatments were reportedly administered to John F. Kennedy , Marlene Dietrich , Kirk Douglas and Salvador Dalí . Some in the mainstream medical community, believe that the preparation was seriously investigated in the 1960s and discredited, and that any promotion today is quackery . In the United States, the FDA bans Gerovital H3 from interstate commerce as an unapproved drug and, since 1982, has prohibited its importation.
As with many scientific discoveries, the regenerative potentials of procaine came to light by accident. Over the years, physicians using it reported unusual and unexpected effects in patients. Arthritis sometimes would improve, hair would re-grow or recolor, and skin quality often would improve. These reports came for the most part from surgeons, who were not particularly interested in gerontology .
Ana Aslan, MD was a Doctor of the National Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Romania. She was the first to seriously investigate the possibilities of procaine as a tool in the fight against ageing. Dr Aslan recognised that procaine in a sense "attacks" the body's cells by numbing them. The body counterattacks with the enzyme cholinesterase. Cholinesterase hydrolyses the procaine and in about one hour (66`+-14`). Dr Aslan speculated that the compound could be stabilised so that it would not numb the cells. The body would not then reject it and the regenerative effects would be extended.
This notion launched her on a research mission lasting two years. In 1951 she had perfected a procaine product called Gerovital H3 (often called G.H.3 for short). It contained antioxidants and stabilising agents. Once stabilised, the procaine molecule could not react with the same speed in the cells. The numbness did not occur and the cholinesterase was not called up. The resulting compound stayed in the body more than six hours and had no anaesthetic qualities. Presumably, this magnified any regenerative effects by a factor of at least six. It also gave the ingredients sufficient time to reach the organs.
Claims coming out of the Institute's clinics for the next few years were viewed as outlandish. Patients treated with GH3 supposedly showed improvements in circulatory function, skin elasticity, ulcers, parkinsonism, arthritis, hair loss, senility, memory, muscular power, lung capacity and depression. According to the reports, practically all ageing phenomena diminished in severity with GH3.
Gerovital formula was developed in Romania by Dr. Ana Aslan (January 1, 1897 – May 20, 1988). The main active ingredient is the well-known local anesthetic procaine hydrochloride, (often referred to by the old brand name, Novocaine ). It also contains small amounts of benzoic acid , potassium metabisulfite and disodium phosphate which are said to be important in the formulation, rendering it more effective by "stabilizing" it. Some advocates acknowledge that despite the stabilizers, the procaine in Gerovital H3 breaks down rapidly into DMAE and PABA , but ascribe the beneficial effects to these breakdown products.
From the 1950s until her death in 1988, Dr. Aslan promoted Gerovital H3 with great success. In the 1960s and 1970s her Romanian clinic, the Parhon Institute, became a mecca for celebrities seeking treatment, and an upscale tourist attraction. The New York Times referred to Gerovital's "jet-set aura," noting that Dr. Aslan had been covered in "society columns where such public figures as Nikita S. Khrushchev , Konrad Adenauer , and Ibn Saud have been listed among the multitudes said to have taken the drug." As late as 1988 an advertisement by the Romanian National Tourist Office lauded "the picturesque and exciting cities, scenic delights, famous resorts (including Gerovital H3 treatment centers), cultural and historic treasures that await the traveler to Romania."
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