When it was announced last Friday that Brenda Fitzgerald would become the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most news coverage focused on the fact she'd be the first woman to lead the agency, with 30 years' experience as an obstetrician-gynecologist. She'd also formerly served as commissioner for the Georgia Department of Public Health.
But over the weekend, Rita Rubin of Forbes discovered a more troubling piece of Fitzgerald's biography: her support for pseudoscientific "anti-aging medicine."
Fitzgerald hasn't tried to hide this fact; it's right there in the second line of her official bio from the Georgia Department of Public Health, where she's described as a "fellow in anti-aging medicine." Rubin, in an excellent bit of online sleuthing, used the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine" to dig up an archived version of the website for Fitzgerald's gynecology practice to see just what that meant.
She found Fitzgerald, who actually is an MD, also touting her board certification in "Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine" from the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M). Rubin notes that the American Board of Medical Specialties, comprised of specialty boards that certify physicians, doesn't include the A4M.
Why not? Well, it might be because anti-aging medicine suffers from a substantial lack of oversight and scientific rigor. At this point, as Rubin points out, the highest-profile proponent of the movement is Suzanne Somers—a former sitcom star with no medical training whose website sells "ageless serum" and "anti-aging eye cream."
It's an almost cliche brand of snake oil, and it's remarkable to see an OB/GYN pushing it—especially one now slated to head the CDC. Fitzgerald's former website contains the obligatory FAQ, which describes "anti-aging medicine" as a "new specialty of medicine that studies the changes that occur in all of us as we age. It is dedicated to treating the cause of problems, not just the symptoms."
The cause of the problems, according to the FAQ, is primarily a decline in hormone levels, which naturally happens as you age. Treatment means boosting your hormones with personalized supplements that are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The A4M calls this "bioidentical hormone replacement therapy" (BHRT). Suzanne Somers swears by it.
It's one thing for a sitcom star to endorse pseudoscience, wholly another for a practicing physician to do so. Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women's Health Network, summed it up best, telling Rubin, "I'm so disappointed that the first female OB/GYN picked to head the CDC is someone who embraces the unproven and anti-scientific claims of the so-called anti-aging movement."
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