A combination of earlier magazine work and new blog posts

Drinking From Today’s Fountain Of Youth

Turning Back the Hands of Time May Be Just a Sip —or a Pill —Away.

Nearly 500 years ago Spanish explorer, Don Juan Ponce de Leon, arrived in what is now Florida in quest of a mythical fountain of youth. Today,

many of us in South Beach have found something resembling it, but it’s tougher than Ponce de Leon imagined— it means exercise to tone the body, clean living to avoid the I’ve-partied-too-much, Keith Richards look, and a little maintenance with occasional Botox and fillers (more on their latest developments in next month’s column) to make our faces look permanently Photoshopped.

But science has recently discovered an anti-aging breakthrough that would make Ponce de Leon turn green with envy. It’s resveratrol, a component of red wine, the main reason it is said that drink has benefits (except for discoloring our teeth, but thank goodness for whitening toothpastes and an occasional one- hour blast in a BriteSmile salon).

In recent lab experiments, scientists discovered that resveratrol, also found in grapes, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and peanuts, extends the life of mice by at least 30 percent—why do scientists always pick on those poor little mice?—and also helps reduce obesity and fights diabetes. It turns out that resveratrol revs up our metabolism, making muscles burn more energy and work more efficiently. With resveratrol, we work out with a reduced heart rate, just like elite athletes. Again, the mice lead the way. A typical mouse can run a kilometer before collapsing in exhaustion, but one pumped up on resveratrol can double that, and without breathing heavy. French doctor and geneticist Johan Auwerx has concluded that for real people “resveratrol makes you like a trained athlete without the training.” Cool. And it gives us faster metabolism—think thin, girls—which every failed diet pill has promised. Resveratrol even neutralizes the effects of high-fat, high-calorie diets, so if you can’t give up the double bacon cheeseburger and fries, at least down it with red wine.

Ever hear that Europeans who adhere to a so- called “Mediterranean diet”—one with lots of fish and poultry, fruits, vegetables, grains and olive oil—have less heart disease, are leaner and live longer than Americans? That’s despite the higher fat in their diet. Not surprising to learn that they drink more red wine than people just about anywhere else. After 60 Minutes’ 1991 report about this apparent paradox, red- wine sales surged, growing from 17 percent of the market to 42 percent last year.

So that’s the good news about red wine, and its key ingredient, resveratrol: the promise of longevity, less degenerative disease and the possibility of becoming a champion athlete without all the work. Too good to be true? No. The latest scientific evidence is persuasive. The problem is that the amounts used in lab tests were megadoses. You would have to drink hundreds of glasses of red wine daily to get the benefit. (I know a few people who would gladly try to do that, but I don’t recommend it unless you have plenty of training and stamina.) The fact that it’s not possible to drink enough wine to replicate the lab results might not register with many people who will read only the headlines but skip the details.

In the U.S., winemakers are handcuffed by old laws from the 1933 repeal of Prohibition that ban them from promoting or advertising health benefits. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms aggressively moves to stop winemakers who try to herald the health advantages. Doesn’t the ATF have anything better to do, like chasing somebody stockpiling hand grenades and machine guns? Oh, well, all the legal stuff means that red-wine makers have to stay mum about resveratrol.

But all is not lost for those of us who want an easier way to live long. The laws don’t limit vitamin and supplement makers, and they have been aggressively marketing resveratrol extracts for years. My husband, Gerald, and I have been taking resveratrol daily for about five years, and we’re still here, so that’s not a bad sign. But even the supplements can’t deliver the amounts used in the lab tests, though they have become more potent over time. Resveratrol is potentially an uber-supplement, so don’t be cheap by looking for it at your local dollar outlet store. Go for top brands, available everywhere from Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets to stores such as The Vitamin Shoppe and Vitamin World.

We also order from the web. One of our faves is vitacost.com, which has its own brand, NSI. Its pill has 200 milligrams of resveratrol, certainly easier than downing a few glasses of red wine, although admittedly not as much fun. Our other favorite is a French company, longevinex.com, which specializes in resveratrol. It’s more expensive than others, but it’s considered the Rolls-Royce of supplements—even scientific researchers often use its resveratrol. Its web- site discloses that the resveratrol used in its supplements is research-grade and combined in a proprietary blend that is the subject of a pending patent. Even the capsules are put through an exclusive, patented, airtight nitrogen-encapsulation process that prolongs resveratrol’s shelf life and delivers it so that it is supercharged in your body. In independent tests, Longevinex supplements delivered the amount of resveratrol it advertised, whereas others often fell far below their claims. Longevinex, whose demand for its pill is up 2,400 percent since November 1st, is adamant that each of its supplements packs the same punch as drinking five to 15 five-ounce glasses of red wine!

But even Longevinex can’t deliver the megadoses scientists say will mimic the fountain of youth. Still, many researchers believe that even low doses help, and that the longer you take resveratrol, the more its cumulative benefits will kick in. So it might not make you live to 100, but 90 isn’t bad. And while you might not run a four-minute mile, easily finishing a marathon In less than four hours is great.

What do you have to lose? Even the most expensive resveratrol supplement runs less than a dollar a day. You can’t get a shot of espresso at Starbucks for that. And when I see you at a local bar, I’ll swap resveratrol pills that we can swallow with nice glasses of Pinot Noir. Cheers.

She’s Banking On India’s Ancient Cures

Three years ago, Cookie Tello, a Miami banker, had a sciatic condition that stumped her doctors. A friend told her about Ayurvedic medicine, India’s 5,000-year-old art of healing. After some research, she decided to try it.

”The problem is that when I checked, there wasn’t a single Ayurveda center in South Florida,” she said.

No more. Tello recently opened Sai Ayurvedic College in Kendall, the culmination of a two-year quest in which Tello quit her banking career, earned a degree from a Seattle school and spent a month in India studying Ayurvedic’s holistic practices.

Hidden on the second floor of an industrial park-styled office building, the center is filled with Indian tapestries, bamboo clusters and soothing fountains.

Ayurveda, a combination of the Sanskit words ayur (life) and vedai (science or knowledge) uses herbs, massages, oils and specialized diets to detox the body.

”Most of our patients come to us after they have already exhausted every Western option, seen many doctors, and tried all types of pills and fixes,” says Aparna Bapat, one of the clinic’s two Ayurvedic specialists. “In Ayurveda, we believe that everything relates to our food, and we work through a mind-and-body connection so patients can make themselves healthier.”

Many people come in with anxiety or depression. ”By changes in the foods they eat, detoxifying their bodies and using herbs, I have seen people’s lives change significantly for the better,” says Bapat.

Not everyone is as convinced, however. The Aug. 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 21 percent of 193 Indian and U.S.-made Ayurvedic herbal supplements bought online contained lead, mercury or arsenic. Earlier studies have raised similar concerns.

The National Ayurvedic Medical Association, a trade group, offered a dual defense. It says the levels in those supplements were not as high as some other FDA-approved products, and that many of the products tested were traditional Ayurvedic herbs that intentionally contained those very metals.

Tello said Sai Ayurvedic avoids herbs that intentionally contain toxic metals, and uses only those that are NAMA-approved. (The FDA does not regulate herbs and supplements.)

And, in any case, herbs make up only a small portion of Sai Ayurvedic’s practice. The more than a dozen therapies offered revolve instead around massage and oils, ranging from a 15-minute herbally medicated steam treatment to remove impurities ($20) to a 21-day detox and cleansing regimen ($1,200). Unfortunately, insurance does not cover the costs.

I had two treatments. The first was the one-hour Abhayanga ($80), a deep massage meant to stimulate circulation and remove waste from the body. That was followed with Kati Basta, a 45-minute, $60 treatment, in which warm medicated oils are poured into a flour dough-ring that was literally built up on my lower back.

During both sessions, there was soft Indian music meant to balance my ”karmic” state. The dripping hot oil, while a strange sensation, did relieve the intensity of my own nagging sciatica problem.

At the end I was thoroughly relaxed. It only took a rush-hour drive home on I-95 to lose most of the benefit. But for a few hours, it was wonderful.

When I called a friend in New York and told her about Sai Ayurvedic, she seemed blasé. Evidently, there are dozens of listings in the Manhattan yellow pages offering Ayurvedic services.

So South Florida might be a little behind when it comes to this ancient Indian healing art, but for those of us who are proactive in taking charge of our health, we now have one more local alternative. About time.

Headaches, Fatigue Can Be A (Food) Sensitive Issue

”No, sorry, I’m sensitive to chicken,” the woman said as she passed by some samples at the Aventura Whole Foods.

”Sensitive?” I asked. “You mean you’re allergic to chicken?”

”Not allergic,” she said. “Just sensitive.”

I then received a 10-minute introduction into the world of food sensitivities and intolerances. We’ve all heard about food allergies, when nuts, dairy, gluten or something causes hives or itching, and in the worst cases, is life-threatening. You eat the bad stuff and your body instantly tells you.

Food sensitivities can be just as damaging, but are more complex to decipher. Researchers believe they contribute to everything from migraines to chronic fatigue to irritable bowel syndrome to acid reflux. For people trying to shed unwanted pounds, intolerant foods are harder to digest, don’t metabolize well, and have a nasty tendency to stick around as fat.

But it’s not easy to recognize your intolerant foods. Only your body knows, as white blood cells react to the foods and wreck havoc over time with your health. My Whole Foods friend told me about ALCAT, a Deerfield Beach-based company that for more than 20 years has perfected a system for testing up to 200 foods, additives, colorings, molds and even environmental chemicals from a blood test.

I’m 57, five-seven, weigh 112, work out regularly and eat healthy foods. However, I am a migraine sufferer, usually once or twice weekly. Although I knew migraines could be exacerbated by certain foods like red wine, aged cheese, and even chocolate, I had eliminated them at different times, and never discovered my headache trigger.

In mid-June I went to ALCAT (your own doctor can draw the blood and send them the sample). The tests costs between $199 to $949, depending on how many foods, additives, and chemicals are tested. Insurance may cover part of it, but you need to check your policy.

I was surprised by the results. ALCAT classifies the intolerances as severe, moderate and mild. It then provides a long list of acceptable foods. Red-lined ”severe” food should be avoided for at least six months. For me, that meant feta cheese, oats (no oatmeal!), and halibut. Turns out that your body reacts negatively to certain foods either from your genetic makeup, or over-exposure, especially if there isn’t enough variety in what you eat.

On my yellow list, moderate, I should avoid for three to six months some things I really love, like ALL wheat and gluten products, which I learned can contribute to bloating.

Finally, on my mild intolerance list, which means I should have them no more than once every four days, there is my daily cup of java, lamb, pork, tuna, strawberries, crab, coconut and too many others to list.

The good news is that you don’t have to give up these foods forever. Once your body is detoxed for half a year, you slowly reintroduce the foods one by one, and see how you feel.

Six weeks into the program, I can see the changes. I’ve had 45 days of no migraines. Also, the swelling on two knuckles has gone down about 50 percent. And my post nasal drip has stopped completely. My energy, even without my morning coffee, is as good or better than ever.

”I’m not surprised,” says Dr. Judy Woolger, co-director of the University of Miami’s Executive Medicine Program and who utilizes traditional and complementary wellness techniques in her practice. “Patients come in not feeling well, and they have had all the traditional tests, but sometimes it takes something like ALCAT to get a better diagnosis and make them healthier.”

So, now I have a scientific snapshot of those foods to which my body is intolerant. By New Year’s, I hope I’ll still be headache free, even though my frequent visits to Starbucks may be a treat of the past.

A Simple Procedure To Restore Your 20/20 Vision

Some of you might have worn glasses for a while. Others with 20/20 vision have never had to worry about anything but which pair of designer shades to buy on your next visit to Bal Harbour. But wait. The bad news is that once you get past 40-I know, no one over 40 lives in South Beach-you will notice subtle changes. At restaurants, you will hold the menu a little further away so you can make out the small type; at Sephora you will ask someone to read the back of the label; and yes, even oversized Ocean Drive might need to be held further away to read the delicious columns.

About one in four people are nearsighted, where you can see things close but things far away seem blurry. The other condition, farsightedness, in which seeing for distance is a breeze and reading is a challenge, is far more pervasive. It is one of aging’s downsides.

So we are faced with choices. At Walgreens you can slip on a pair of those plastic reading glasses your grandmother wore, see how much you can read off the little card on the swivel stand, and after making certain no one you know is in the store, pay only $14.99. But you will have to take them every time you go out, and if you don’t wear them on a chain around your neck you will lose them in a week. You also could go to a chic eyewear store, have an exam, pick out cool designer frames, customize your lenses and spend $500. You won’t see any better than with the Walgreens specials, but you’ll look much more chic, though you’d still have the problem of where to put them and how not to lose them. Contacts? Easy to use once you get used to them but a pain between the cleaners, solutions and travel gear. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled “New Thinking on Eye Infections and Contacts” discussed serious eye problems caused by a common amoeba found in most water supplies and was enough to make you toss your Bausch & Lombs into the garbage.

Which brings us to the real purpose of this column: Should you LASIK? You have probably heard about it or have a friend who has done it, but just to refresh your memory, LASIK-which stands for Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis-is quick laser surgery that can restore your vision to 20/20 or better. Luckily for us, the country’s number-one-rated eye clinic-according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of top hospitals-is here in Miami: the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Bascom, founded in 1962, has just reached a deal to collaborate with Moorfields, the largest and most prestigious eye hospital and training center in the United Kingdom.

LASIK has been around since 1960, when Spanish ophthalmologist Jose Barraquer first developed a crude technique to cut thin flaps in the cornea and alter its shape. Twenty years later, an IBM researcher, Rangaswamy Srinivasan, discovered that an ultraviolet laser could etch the eye precisely with no damage to the surrounding area. This led to LASIK in 1990, when two doctors, Italian Lucio Buratto and Greek Loannis Pallikaris, melded all prior techniques.

I could have had LASIK in 1990, when it was hot in Manhattan, but I don’t like trying new medical procedures until they have been tested on other guinea pigs and doctors get some experience. And when it comes to my eyes, I am even more squeamish than I am going to the dentist. But it has been worth the wait, as long as you choose a top clinic with doctors who have performed the procedure many times. Leading eye institutes such as Bascom feature faster, more precise lasers, equipment that allows bladeless incisions, and optimized techniques that greatly improve their reliability compared to a decade ago.

Bascom is one of only six centers in the nation that performs “custom LASIK,” in which wave-front technology offers microscopic adjustment for each patient’s particular set of vision deficiencies. The payoff is that 98 percent of patients end up with 20/20 vision or better, while 70 percent can boast an astonishing 20/16 or better.

Amazingly, the entire procedure takes about 20 minutes, and you will see better by the time you leave the office. Within a week, you will be at your peak. The downside is that a few people get an infection, requiring antibiotics. Others may need a tweak to make things perfect. But not everyone is a candidate for LASIK. About 25 percent are too nearsighted or have corneas that are too thin. Fortunately, other procedures can sometimes help these people as much as LASIK.

My husband, Gerald, and I went to Bascom and sat through three hours of four different exams with a million dollars in high-tech machines you have never seen at your local optometrist. Testing is free. It turns out we are both candidates. I need surgery on both eyes and Gerald on just one, and since you pay by the eye ($2,250), he is getting a great bargain. Dr. Sonia Yoo, who looks more like a model than a doctor, told us, “Actually, the younger you are, the better. If people see us in their 20s, they can get decades of near perfect vision.”

Here are a few other tips: Wear sunglasses as much as possible. They really protect the eyes. Take foods and supplements that are great for vision. Blueberries and bilberries strengthen capillaries and prevent loss of sight (bilberry jam was fed to World War II fighter pilots to enhance their night vision). Eyebright is a European plant used since the Middle Ages to help vision, as are lutein and zeaxanthin, two wonder supplements that have been proven to protect eyes and delay age-related problems.

So after a quick session at Bascom Palmer, a few supplements, and blueberries, your eyes should be perfect. Gerald and I are booked for a late-June LASIK. When you next see us, he will recognize you from across the street, and I will be reading menus without glasses. Now go over the causeway and see the world a little clearer.

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Vitamins

Emerging from the winter gloom, most of us will become more active as wonderful weather returns. Now is a good time to ensure we are in top

condition for spring cleaning and extra exercise. The starting point should be to check if we’re getting all the nutrients and vitamins our bodies need. So spring is also the ideal time to give you my beginner’s guide to vitamins. It’s simpler than you think to maximize your inner and outer beauty from a bottle.

With so much talk about vitamins nowadays, it seems like everyone is using them. However, many women think vitamin supplements are unnecessary if they have balanced diets (no, girls, three different types of pizza a day doesn’t qualify). But most people will be surprised to learn that few of us get all the nutrients we need from our food, no matter how hard we try. My eyes were opened when a study of more than 20,000 women showed that not a single one got 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for 10 basic nutrients from her food. Other studies reveal that half the population has marginal nutritional deficiencies. No wonder so many people are running around tired and wondering why their hair and skin are dry.

I also get letters from some of you who would like to begin taking vitamins, but don’t know where to start.

Here is my foolproof routine. A good multivitamin should be part of your daily regimen at any age. Think of it as necessary as drinking water. The nutrients in most multivitamins ensure that you won’t get any major mineral deficiencies. It’s hard to go wrong with major brands. One I like is PharmAssure’s Biomultiple, Multi-Vitamin and Mineral Formula. It has all the basic vitamins you need (A, C, E and lots of calcium and Vitamin D for bones) but also includes a few of my other favorites, including silica, great for nails and hair; alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant that may help strengthen your immune system*; dong quai, a Chinese herb that is intended to help PMS or menopausal symptoms*; and also chromium, which might boost your metabolism.* Also on my short list is Vitalert from Performance Labs. It includes all the necessary vitamins plus some micronutrients like bee pollen that may help promote physical and mental alertness.’ This is especially good given the irregular eating, long hours and stress we put on our bodies.

For those of you who like to specialize, Pharmavite’s Nature Made brand develops specific formulas that target different concerns, in addition to dozens of individual supplements. For instance, Nature Made multis include Antioxidant Formula, with more immune helpers; Essential 50+ for Women, with extra calcium for bones and some herbs said to help counter hot flashes*; Essential Energy formulated to combat sluggishness; and even Essential Heart, with extra garlic, a mineral that is showing promise in controlling cholesterol.*

For women searching for beauty combined with good health, check out Olay’s vitamins, which are developed for everything from alleviating brittle nails to enhancing complexion. Olay’s combinations encourage bodies to promote beauty from the inside. My personal fave is their Evening Primrose Nourishing Complex, an essential oil in a capsule that nourishes dry skin.

So now, ladies, you have no more excuses. This beginner’s guide should get you going. It’s not that difficult to take a vitamin a day to make sure that your health is the best it can be, and that you are encouraging your bodies to do all they can to keep you looking forever 21. 

Viagra for Gals Coming Soon

The New York Times knows how to get your attention. The eye-catching headline “A Female Counterpart to Viagra” was enough to make me read a section of the paper I usually refer to only to check the ever-decreasing value of my 401K.

The story was about a patent that New Jersey pharmaceutical and medical technology firm NexMed Inc. had recently landed for a cream based on a drug now used to treat erectile dysfunction. According to NexMed, its cream would successfully treat a condition it calls “female sexual arousal disorder” (FSAD). The Times article reads in part as if it had been written by the company’s public relations department: “Viagra, the drug that used professional athletes and a retired senator to become a household word, may soon have a counterpart for women,” it promised. It’s not hard to see why companies are interested in this potential market. In 1999, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 43 percent of women between 18 and 54 had experienced some kind of sexual dysfunction. That’s a big market. Pharmaceutical companies dream of huge profits — some estimates are upward of $6 billion — in promising women steady orgasms and stimulation.

That’s about all I needed to wake up the researcher in me. A trip to the library, a few phone calls to doctors and medical researchers, and a couple of hours on the Net later, my first surprise is that there isn’t any agreement in the medical community on what constitutes female sexual dysfunction. The American Psychiatric Association says that “FSAD is a persistent or recurrent inability to attain, or to maintain until completion of the sexual activity, an adequate lubrication-swelling response of sexual excitement.” Boy, those psychiatrists really have a way with words. I’ve never really thought I might be diagnosed with a disorder if some professional arbiter of the “lubrication-swelling response” thinks mine is inadequate.

One psychiatric tome I consulted says, “Some evidence suggests that relationship issues and/or sexual trauma in childhood may play a role in the development of this disorder.” Hmmm, why doesn’t anyone say this about men who can’t get it up and have to resort to Viagra? No one I know ever accuses the flaccid man of failing to perform because of a “relationship issue.”

And the more I read, the more I wondered if FSAD should encompass women whose sex drive had dropped because of post-menopausal hormone imbalances, or those whose antidepressants or heart medications have given them the common side effects of reduced libido? What about the dryness that many women experience with menopause, a condition so uncomfortable for some that merely having sex is a painful, not pleasurable, experience? And what if the “dysfunction” is the result of finding yourself sharing a bed with an overweight husband, with beer- and pizza-breath, whose no-foreplay, frenzied attack is timed so he won’t miss the second half of the football game blaring in the adjoining room?

One book admitted that FSAD was merely a fancier name for what used to be dubbed “frigidity.” A couple of years ago, the medical wizards had come up with Eros, a soft funnel connected to a battery-controlled vacuum that pulled blood into the clitoris. At $359 each, and available by prescription only, the Eros sold even fewer tickets than Madonna did for “Swept Away.”

But now the medical profiteers are taking a different tack. If Viagra worked for men, imagine what a variation could do for us ladies? The patented cream uses the same active ingredient that’s in the male pills, a chemical called prostaglandin. The women’s cream is designed to increase the flow of blood to our sex organs, implying that with the right dosage, even listening to Barry Manilow records could get us excited.

Dr. James L. Yeager, the NexMed senior vice president for scientific affairs, said the target audience is “women [who] say they can have intercourse, but nothing happens, they don’t get aroused. We don’t know why. We think it has something to do with the action of vasodilation, or blood vessel dilation, gone awry. It’s not psychological.”

Says who? Has this man ever talked to a woman about what it takes to really turn her on? But Yeager, and the medical boys, think they have the answer: “In female anatomy, it [the medication] dilates the blood vessels that feed the labia, and these are highly proliferated with secretory cells, and you need increased blood flow for increased secretion and increased engorgement.”

Already getting you kind of warm and excited all over, right, girls? Don’t the researchers in white lab coats understand that there’s more to making us enjoy wonderful sex than an organ stimulator? I thought that’s what masturbation was for. Anybody at NexMed ever hear of foreplay or a little tenderness? Let me suggest a more direct cure for many cases of FSAD — thoughtful male lovers who know how to slowly arouse a woman. And some women don’t accept that we essentially have to give ourselves orgasms. We have to be in the right frame of mind, have to want the sex, let our inhibitions go, and then really go for it.

For me, what is as important as sex itself is what happens before. My husband and I have been together for 22 years, so I know about creativity. I find it arousing to be spontaneous, adventurous and diverse. Get out of bed and be innovative, dress up, meet at a hotel with great sheets and room service, make a date as if it were the first time. And remember, men — we need patience and tenderness. Spend time kissing, caressing and cuddling, not just focusing on our sex organs.

That’s the problem, it seems to me, with the new wonder drug from NexMed. It focuses on the physical to the exclusion of everything else that arouses us. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But on those occasions when I just wasn’t in the right mood, or couldn’t quite get there, I never started to fret that I might have a sexual disorder. And no group of psychiatrists or medical researchers is going to convince me otherwise.

“We want to keep the dose low for safety,” Dr. Yeager said, “but we want rapid penetration into the tissue, because if you want to apply it, you don’t want to wait forever for it to work.” Women, he noted, should need to wait only five or 10 minutes for a dab of the cream to take effect. “Of course, they’ll need to engage in some sexual activity,” he added.

Thanks for the advice, Doc.

Biologically, it makes more sense for older women to have sex with younger men — unless they want to talk afterward.

I can’t seem to get away from news about cross-generational relationships. Some of the stories, thank goodness, are about older women and younger men. There’s the always-juicy gossip about actress Joan Collins’ marriage to a husband 32 years younger than she is; iVillage has a special “younger men” section; and then there’s Marissa Monteilh’s book “May December Souls.” Even Bollywood, the Indian film industry in Bombay that has thrived on stories of men romancing women a quarter their age, is suddenly releasing four films with leading actresses exploring their sexuality with much younger men.

However, the recent Hollywood film “The Man From Elysian Fields” returns the subject to its more traditional view: rich older man married to young, attractive woman. And then there’s the VIP Life dating service in New York, which takes supreme advantage of horny, wealthy men by making sure they part with at least $10,000 to get a chance at landing sexy arm candy.

If I weren’t happily married, maybe I could have a date with one of these tycoons. I meet VIP matchmaker Lisa Clampitt’s standards: I’m attractive (she actually says the standard is beautiful, but with Photoshop that’s just an airbrush or two away); I’m thin (112 on a 5-foot-7 frame, which might be a heifer compared to Kate Moss, but I’m a famine survivor by American, McDonald’s-loving standards); and I have an artistic side (being silly enough to pay my bills by writing for a living qualifies as artistic or nuts). So far, so good. Uh-oh. I just saw the last requirement. Clampitt looks for women in their 20s and early 30s so the men can experience “five years of fun and then have kids.” Damn. I’m 51, old enough to be the mother of most of the girls. No kids for this post-menopausal woman.

But don’t worry, girls; don’t let it get you down. If anything, once you know just a touch about the biology of aging, you might be glad you aren’t in the clutches of some older man. These older man-younger woman relationships don’t make a lot of sense, at least in bed.

It’s pretty simple. A man’s testosterone peaks around 21. By the time a man reaches his late 30s, his testosterone levels have dropped by half. My favorite little stat to scare any overly macho man is that almost 80 percent of men over age 42 have some degree of impotency. The testosterone loss also means they lose muscle tone and bone mass (pec implants look good in photos but feel like rubber, so forget the surgery, fellows), have foggier memories, suffer bouts of fatigue and depression, and — most critical for most men — lose their sex drive. Also, higher levels of testosterone in middle age tend to cause baldness, so the men who keep their levels fairly high often pay the price with hair loss. Welcome to a midlife crisis, fellows.

On top of the falloff in testosterone, men experience drops in other hormones such as DHEA (it stands for Dehydroepiandrosterone, which will tell you why everyone abbreviates it), which is only a couple of steps removed from testosterone. As DHEA drops, the body is more susceptible to illness, fat replaces muscle and, again, sex drive declines. Cortisol, often dubbed the “stress hormone,” is manufactured by the adrenal glands, and its production also diminishes in middle age. That means less energy. And to top it off, human growth hormone, which helps everything from muscle tone to skin firmness, starts plummeting through the 30s and 40s. It’s not a pretty sight. These drops exacerbate every bad effect of the testosterone dive. In severe cases, doctors describe the condition as “andropause,” the male equivalent of menopause.

No wonder golf becomes a popular pastime for many middle-aged men. And none of this physical meltdown signifies high-octane performance in bed. While plenty of over-the-counter supplements of DHEA and pills promising to promote the production of growth hormone and testosterone are sold in health food stores and over the Internet, no one is quite sure what the right dosage is, whether the pills really work, and if there are any long-term side effects from trying to artificially restore the hormones that mother nature has taken away.

Sure, Viagra helps. That drug at least will guarantee an erection, which is half the battle for the testosterone-starved older man. But Viagra can cause side effects, from relatively mild ones like headaches, stomach upset, flushed skin and urinary tract infections, to serious problems like heart attacks. Some researchers have tied more than 500 deaths to Viagra, while Viagra boosters contest the link.

For any man who isn’t eager for Viagra, are there alternatives for boosting the flagging testosterone levels? Some men might be tempted by the advertisements for testosterone replacement. Doctors prescribe the wonder medication either in pills, injections or patches. It does what it’s supposed to do, and men who start the therapy love their renewed energy, muscle tone and sexual vigor. The downside is a very real risk of prostate cancer, as well as less life-threatening side effects such as sleep apnea (a cessation in breathing while sleeping, which sometimes leads to blood pressure problems and recurring, severe headaches). Isn’t a risk of cancer vs. a restored sense of vitality the same quandary that women have long faced when it comes to hormone replacement therapy? The difference with men is that the medical community never adopted widespread standards of trying to put all middle-aged men on testosterone replacement. The risks were simply too real.

There is substantial anecdotal evidence that a healthy diet and lots of exercise — good things for any of us in our highly charged lives — stabilizes some of the hormone drop for men. However, a diet very low in fat, though good for the heart, might not be good for the sex drive, as it tends to suppress the manufacture of testosterone. So running a few days a week, some weight training and a healthy diet with about 25 to 30 percent of the good types of fat might be the best bet for naturally keeping testosterone at a reasonable level.

Women also have problems as we age, and a lot of us after menopause have little desire to hop in bed for a round of intimate contact. When I went through menopause, for about six months sex was the furthest thing from my mind (pity my patient husband, whose testosterone level still seems OK at age 48). There are some doctors who call women’s lack of sexual interest after menopause a “desire phase” disorder. Now that is going a tad far for me. The decline in sexual desire is really influenced by hormones, including testosterone, just as it is for men.

The fact that male sex hormones can boost our sexual desire is nothing new. The ancient Greeks and Romans unwittingly used testosterone to increase sexual appetite. Following a hard day of fighting, gladiators often bathed in olive oil. After the bath, the olive oil (which, because of the gladiators’ sweat, now contained small quantities of testosterone) was carefully collected and stored in small jugs, which were then sold to women who smeared themselves in the oil. The effect was a slight increase in testosterone levels and therefore in their sexual desire.

Today, since gladiators are scarce, mother nature has come to the rescue for women. The ovaries, although incapable of producing estrogen after menopause, often continue to produce testosterone for several years. That’s why some women have a strong sex drive for a considerable time after menopause. While our testosterone levels are only one-tenth those of men at younger ages, we almost catch up in later years.

I’ve contended for a long time that women stay afloat a bit more steadily and longer. That was born out just last week when a global survey (sponsored by Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra), conducted in 30 countries among 27,780 adults aged 40 to 80, found that women become sexually dysfunctional at about half the rate of men. “To the extent that women are sexually active, they may be facing men who have problems,” concluded lead researcher Edward Laumann, a University of Chicago sociologist. That means from a strictly biological view the correct cross-generational relationship might be an older woman and a younger man. For women interested only in a physical relationship, landing a younger man closer to his sexual peak can’t hurt. The problem for me and most of my friends is that we also want conversation and intellectual stimulation. Unless I’m fascinated by the man’s mind and soul, it would be impossible to get excited about getting into bed with him.

We live, however, in a youth-obsessed culture where style often seems to matter more than substance. Every time a new novel or film matches a cross-generational couple, it’s likely to generate extra buzz. That will ensure it will be part of our cultural scene, even if it is seldom dealt with accurately.

“The Man From Elysian Fields” is an exception, at least when it comes to the older man-younger woman relationship. In the film Andy Garcia, a struggling novelist, is forced to supplement his income by working at an elite male escort service run by Mick Jagger (who in real life certainly knows a thing or two about dating beautiful younger women). Garcia’s new job becomes interesting when an older, wealthy man (James Coburn) — who can’t perform sexually with his own wife — allows his wife to hire Garcia to have sex with her.

The story line may be scary for men approaching their later years, but at least it’s more realistic than the idea that a man’s money can make up for his lack of testosterone.

Menopausal women: Use it or lose it

An Australian medical study that followed a group of women for 10 years released its conclusion this past May: Post-menopausal women tend to dramatically lose sexual function. Did we really need the cost of a 10-year study by doctors to tell us what almost any honest post-menopausal woman would be willing to admit (assuming she isn’t a Samantha Jones wannabe)?

I passed through menopause at 48, three years ago, and in my book “This Is Not Your Mother’s Menopause” I wrote about my own stretch of lack of interest in sex: “For about six months sex became the farthest thing from my mind. I just had no desire. It wasn’t anything to do with Gerald [my husband]; it was my own problem, but I didn’t really feel compelled to fix it because the whole idea of sex simply didn’t interest me.”

That lack of sexual desire that strikes many women around menopause has been turned into another moneymaker by pharmaceutical companies interested in expanding the list of things for which HRT might be used. The Australian study, for instance, said that women could avoid much of their sexual dysfunction by using hormones. The doctors from Down Under linked a decline in sexual interest, arousal and frequency of sexual activity — and an increase in vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse — to the plunge in levels of estradiol, an ovary-produced hormone. “Therefore, estrogen-containing hormone replacement therapy can protect against decline of sexual functioning,” concluded the study.

Boy, that must have temporarily made the hearts of some drug-firm executives race faster. Too bad that in July part of the Women’s Health Initiative study for the most widely prescribed hormone prescription in the U.S. was abruptly halted due to the increased risks for blood clots, invasive breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes. You would really have to be desperate for sex to be on a medication that increases your chances for an early death.

Well, some of you might say, men do it all the time. Viagra, the wonder medication that puts Anna Nicole Smith at risk of having to go to bed with the next 90-year-old multimillionaire she marries, puts men at an increased risk of death from sudden heart attacks. But men are different, in case you haven’t noticed. A slight uptick in the death rate is worth it to some of them to stay sexually active. Women need a bit more than just a medication. And maybe that was the problem I had initially with the Australian study.

Actually, Viagra is now being prescribed for women, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it yet for us. (More than 150,000 women now use it, according to its maker, Pfizer.) Viagra increases the blood flow to the genitals. Women need this blood flow, just as men do, to achieve sexual arousal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that even Pfizer’s own doctors admit there’s no reason to think the side effects, such as headaches and temporary visual problems, will be any different than in men. Viagra can also be deadly for a woman who is on heart medicine containing nitrates.

Too many doctors, and pharmaceutical companies, assume that a simple pill is all it takes for us to want to have sex. But it’s much more than just making sure we are physically ready. For us good sex, and the desire for it, are often dependent on many other factors — such as the relationship we are in, our emotional state, how we feel about our bodies, and even our general mood. Hormones address the mechanical part of it but don’t address the complex emotional part of what really makes sex work for us. Hell, we’ve been giving millions of women HRT for 40 years and it doesn’t seem to me that many of them are enjoying active sex lives in their later years. If hormones were the answer, this wouldn’t be an issue anymore. A British study this past June found that almost two-thirds of women who started an HRT regimen gave it up in the first year due to unpleasant side effects. “They complained of migraines, losing their sex drive and putting on weight. Some also reported breast tenderness and depression.”

I’ve talked to women who swear that their reduced libidos responded to testosterone, one of the hormones now touted for maintaining an active sex life past menopause. One of the most popular prescriptions is for a patch that releases testosterone and androgen. I’m always amazed that any woman who did a minimum of research would ever pop testosterone. We all naturally produce it. Before menopause, estrogen keeps it in check. But after menopause, and without enough estrogen to act as a balancer, testosterone can deepen the voice and in rarer cases cause facial or chest hair. Taking the hormone enhances the odds of these side effects, which may not be reversible. And if that’s not bad enough, testosterone also causes a lot of women to gain weight. Now, if I took testosterone to enhance my libido, it’s hard to imagine that my husband would find me very attractive if I had a moustache, talked like James Earl Jones and weighed 40 pounds more. If that’s progress, I’ll pass.

I never went on hormones during menopause, but my sexual desire did return slowly. A critical part was that my partner did not rush me or make me feel bad about my lack of interest. I learned a lot about myself and my body. Nutritional supplements, including extra magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc, help boost the libido. Also, sarsaparilla, a herb, helps the natural production of testosterone. And though estrogen-based creams do help with vaginal dryness, there are also natural alternatives, including vitamin E capsules and calendula cream, a moisturizer with antibacterial properties that nourishes and strengthens the tissues. And taking regular doses of evening primrose oil and essential fatty acids boosts the sex-hormone production of the adrenal glands.

Finally, it really is a matter of the old adage: Use it or lose it. Intercourse stimulates circulation and is one of the best natural aids. In the end, for me, there was no magic potion or pill. Once I felt as though I was starting to take back control of my body in menopause, I started to feel better about sex. In the end, my brain was my most important sex organ because it ultimately controlled the way I viewed sex and my desire to have it. Until they have a pill for that, girls, we’re basically on our own.

Death by Hormones

It’s been more than 50 years since studies first sounded the alarm about hormone replacement therapy. Women, silenced by shame, have been guinea pigs of the pharmaceutical industry for too long.

This week’s headlines announcing the abrupt termination of part of the Women’s Health Initiative — the definitive long-term study of 16,000 postmenopausal women to investigate the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — caught many medical practitioners and their patients by surprise. The portion of the study involving women taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone was halted suddenly due to substantially increased risks for an aggressive form of breast cancer, as well as notably increased odds for heart attack, stroke and blood clots in women participating in HRT as “treatment” for menopause.

For researchers who have long maintained a healthy skepticism about hormone replacement therapy, the sudden halt of part of the study was not a surprise, but rather a relief after a recent string of bad news about the medicinal use of hormones. It started last July when the Annals of Internal Medicine reported the results of two studies contradicting the long-held belief that hormone replacement therapy protected postmenopausal women’s hearts. One review concluded that for women with heart disease, hormones actually increased the risk of heart attacks and death by 25 percent. A second study echoed those results, finding that women who started HRT after having a heart attack were 44 percent more likely to have another heart attack or die within a year when compared to those who never used hormones. (The one major study that ever showed estrogen could reduce heart attacks had been based on men.)

In February, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) printed the results of an extensive study showing that women who took hormone therapy for five years or more after menopause had a 60 to 85 percent increased risk of breast cancer, especially a type known as lobular tumors, which account for up to 10 percent of all breast cancers. The findings applied equally to women taking estrogen alone, or in combination with another hormone, progesterone, which had long been touted by HRT proponents as the safety additive to the hormone cocktail.

In that same issue, JAMA reported that HRT, long touted for improving the mental outlook for postmenopausal women, does not often help, and may in fact physically harm them. The study covered more than 2,700 women, whose average age was 67. The results, concluded Dr. Kathryn M. Rexrode, a Harvard Medical School instructor and coauthor of the study, “should challenge the widely held belief that hormone therapy helps women remain more youthful, active or vibrant.” Rexrode went on to say that “the overall data over the last few years suggest that fewer women than we thought are benefiting from hormone replacement therapy,” and concluded that “there is very much we don’t know about HRT.”

The bad news for HRT proponents continued into April. Conventional wisdom had long held that hormone therapy protected women against ovarian cancer. However, a Swedish study refuted that by showing some forms of hormone replacement might actually increase a woman’s risk of this deadly disease. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that two forms of hormone replacement therapy — estrogen alone and estrogen with limited use of progestins, the synthetic form of progesterone — may increase the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer, a form of the disease involving cells covering the outer surface of the ovaries. In women who still had their uterus and used estrogen alone for 10 years, there was a 43 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer compared to women who never used estrogen therapy.

The Swedish researchers also found that women who had used estrogen combined with sequential progestin were up to 54 percent more likely to develop epithelial ovarian cancer than those women who never used this therapy. This study reinforced one published in 2001 in JAMA that found that women who used estrogen therapy for more than 10 years had double the risk of ovarian cancer.

In May, British researchers who had followed 13,000 women for three years reported that those who took HRT were three to four times more likely to develop debilitating gallstones. This confirmed similar findings in the Nurses’ Health Study, a large study underway in the United States.

These are devastating findings for my generation — baby boomers — who have been repeatedly assured that hormone replacement therapy not only offers freedom from the uncomfortable physical symptoms of menopause, but also improves heart health and bone strength, all with virtually no extra cancer risk. It turns out to be a lie — a 50-year-old lie.

Major pharmaceutical companies have been using women — duping women — since the 1950s when a few doctors started classifying menopause as “estrogen deficiency disease,” as if this natural passage was an affliction that needed medication for treatment. Doctors “treated” us with tranquilizers and antidepressants. By the 1960s, with an onslaught of advertising money from Wyeth, the manufacturer of the top-selling estrogen product, hormones became the “cure” of choice for menopause.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that doctors discovered a problem: Estrogen greatly increased the risks of uterine cancer. Hardly discouraged, the pharmaceutical companies went back to the lab and developed a mixture of estrogen and progesterone designed to block the uterine cancer risk. A relentless bid to expand the market accompanied the new menopause “cure.” After initially claiming that hormones only assisted with the symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, the drug companies steadily added to the list of things it was supposed to help, from bone density, to heart health, to sexual vigor, to enhanced memory, to curing depression.

Every time a study has been released that has challenged the safety of hormone replacement therapy, the pharmaceutical companies have gone into high gear to minimize the results and find new reasons for women to continue swallowing the drugs. They have scared women into thinking they will fall apart when they reach menopause — even worse, cease to be attractive — if they don’t start taking hormones. If history is any guide, researchers at Wyeth are trying even now to package a new combination of hormones to replace the tainted brew.

The payback for the last 30 years of false advertising is this week’s news that millions of women have put themselves at increased risk for life-threatening illnesses because pharmaceutical companies and obliging doctors have marketed eternal youth in a dangerous hormonal cocktail disguised as a wonder drug.

Will women, embarrassed by aging and the intimacy of this discussion, continue to be silent? Are we resigned to playing the role of guinea pig for large pharmaceutical companies scrambling to develop profitable treatments? The answer is yes to both questions if we continue to approach menopause as the end of our reproductive ability and sexual attractiveness. We have become convinced that, instead of a new start, menopause signals the end of a vibrant phase of life — and drug companies have long profited from our insecurities about this natural change. They have capitalized on women’s fear, and in the process put millions of us at greater risk of serious disease. Now it is our turn to capitalize on the duplicity of drug companies to put them at risk of serious regulation.