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New CDC director's history of promoting pseudoscientific 'anti-aging medicine' raises concerns

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald

As I’ve noted here before, President Donald Trump was involved in a highly questionable health business venture a few years back. He licensed his name to a company that persuaded gullible consumers to buy a urine test that the company claimed could be used to create customized (and expensive) nutritional supplements. As one Harvard doctor put it, the test was a “scam … a bogus program to make money for the people who are selling it.”

Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development, Dr. Ben Carson, also has a history of endorsing a supplement company that engaged in questionable practices. In this case, the company suggested its products could cure cancer and autism — entirely bogus claims, of course. The company eventually had to pay $7 million to settle a lawsuit with the Texas attorney general’s office for deceitful marketing.

Well, this week we learn that yet another person with the Trump Administration has a history of peddling pseudoscientific nonsense to susceptible patients. In an article published online in Forbes, freelance journalist Rita Rubin reports that Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, whom President Trump appointed this month as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), used to recommend “anti-aging medicine” to her patients when she was in private practice.

Fitzgerald had a private ob-gyn practice for 30 years before taking the job of commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health in 2011.

“Unlike any OB/GYN I know,” writes Rubin, “Fitzgerald treated men as well as women. That's because besides being board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, she is a fellow in ‘anti-aging medicine.’” 

Until recently, Fitzgerald was apparently proud of that fact. She listed it in her bio on the Georgia Department of Public Health website — that is, until this week, when Rubin’s article was published and that bio disappeared. The Trump Administration also omitted any mention of her being a fellow in anti-aging medicine from their press release announcing Fitzgerald’s appointment. Nor does it appear in her bio on the CDC website.

An unrecognized specialty

As Rubin points out, the American Board of Medical Specialties “doesn’t recognize the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), which promotes the use of ‘intravenous nutritional therapy’, ‘bioidentical hormone replacement therapy’ (BHRT) and ‘pellet therapy,’ in which tiny pellets that contain hormones are placed under the skin.”

But it’s not easy to scrub inconvenient biographical facts from the internet. Using the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” Rubin was able to access a 2010 homepage from Fitzgerald’s practice, where the doctor posted this evidence-challenged list of questions and answers for patients:

  • What is anti-aging medicine? “It is 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.”
  • How do I know I am taking the right supplements? “We can now measure the vitamins, antioxidants, necessary fats and proteins in your cells with a simple blood test. If you like the supplements you are taking (Juice Plus, for example), we can tell you what you need to add.”
  • Can you treat my husband? “I have taken additional training in male hormones so that I may treat male hormone deficiencies as well as female deficiencies.”
  • Why did you become interested in anti-aging medicine? “I got older! The life expectancy for women in 1900 was 48. The majority of women never reached the hormone depleted state of menopause just 100 years ago. Now most of us can expect to live half of our lives without natural optimal hormone production.”

A ‘bioridiculous’ idea

The idea that “bioidentical hormones” are some kind of fountain of youth is “bioridiculous” (as one doctor has stated), but that doesn’t stop people from hawking them, as Rubin explains:

The Food and Drug Administration, which, like the CDC, is part of HHS, warns against assuming that bio-identical hormones are any better than hormones manufactured by a drug company. “The FDA does not have evidence that ‘bioidentical hormones’ are safer or more effective than other hormone products,” according to the agency's website. “FDA believes that the benefits and risks are likely to be the same.”

But compounded hormones in creams, injections and pellets are, for some strange reason, considered to be dietary supplements, for the most part exempt from FDA regulation. So they don't have to carry the boxed warning about an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, invasive breast cancer and blood clots that the FDA requires for medications containing estrogen or estrogen plus progestin, prescribed for short-term use to relieve menopausal symptoms, not turn back the hands of time. 

“Not only is evidence lacking to support superiority claims of compounded bioidentical hormones over conventional menopausal hormone therapy, but these claims also pose the additional risks of variable purity and potency and lack efficacy and safety data,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the professional organization for OB/GYNs such as Fitzgerald.

From relief to concern

Many scientists sighed with relief when Fitzgerald was appointed because of her pro-vaccine stance. But the news that she was an active participant in the bogus field of anti-aging medicine has raised new and serious concerns. Writes Rubin:

“I’m shocked,” Dr. Steven Goldstein, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University School of Medicine and treasurer of the International Menopause Society, said after I told him that Fitzgerald’s biography identifies her as an anti-aging medicine fellow. 

Goldstein described so-called anti-aging treatments as “snake oil” that “plays on people's worst fears about their mortality.”

“If she [Fitzgerald] was one of these people who was marketing anti-aging medicine, that’s scary," he said.

FMI: You can read Rubin’s article on the Forbes website.

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Comments (2)

Anti-aging medicine anyone?

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald looks great! I'll take what she is having!

It's a professional head shot

I wouldn't recommend drawing conclusions about her aging or health from that head shot. Professional photographers also often enhance their shots with Photoshop.

Here's a more candid shot where she looks her age:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dr-brenda-fitzgerald-named-ne...