Banned Antiaging Drug Gerovital H3 Makes a Comeback
More than three decades ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the antiaging drug Gerovital H3, saying the drug did not deliver on its promise. Now it appears a new generation of people is pursuing the drug, so what should they know about Gerovital H3?
What is Gerovital H3?
You may be surprised to learn that the antiaging drug Gerovital H3 is actually a dental painkiller called procaine hydrochloride, also known as novocaine. How could a drug that kills the pain of dental procedures provide any antiaging benefits?
That’s a good question, and one that the FDA felt was not adequately answered, which is one reason why the drug was banned for antiaging purposes. But hope springs eternal, and so now at least one medical expert is sending out a warning about Gerovital H3.
In the latest issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Thomas Perls, MD, warns that Gerovital H3 seems to be making a reappearance, in part because of the Internet. Both international and US-based antiaging clinics and facilities are advertising the pill and intravenous forms of the drug.
The seed of Gerovital H3 was planted in 1905 when Dr. Alfred Einhorn, a biochemist, combined two substances that occur naturally in the body: diethylaminoethanol (DEAE) and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), in a liquid. The drug, procaine hydrochloride, was used solely as a pain killer until the late 1940s, when Dr. Ana Aslan of the National Geriatric Institute in Bucharest began giving the drug to some elderly patients with arthritis.
That’s when she discovered that the combination not only improved arthritis symptoms but enhanced other physical as well as mental abilities as well. However, the benefits were short-lived, so she added potassium metabisulphite and disodium phosphate, which extended the drug’s benefits for 6 to 9 hours. Gerovital H3 was born.
Aslan reportedly tested the drug in a large double-blind, placebo-controlled study that included 15,000 workers throughout Romania. Researchers reported that those taking Gerovital H3 showed increased sex drive, disappearance of peptic ulcers, improvements in arthritis symptoms, better blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and other benefits.
Investigators in dozens of countries began testing the drug. In the United States, the National Institute on Aging was involved in an investigation into the drug and concluded that “except for a possible mild monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor [a type of antidepressant] effect that would potentially ameliorate depression, there was no scientifically credible evidence supporting the claims that procaine hydrochloride is beneficial in treating age-related diseases or syndromes,” Perls notes in his article.
In a 1988 review, the authors said research indicated the drug combination was “ineffective.” They also noted that the two positive trials among those published before 1980 were done with small populations (only 30 and 31 individuals), all of whom were hospitalized for mental health conditions. In addition, “six other studies carried out in the same kind of patients were all negative.”
Is Gerovital H3 an antiaging drug?
According to Perls, “there is no scientific evidence supporting any systemic health benefits or ‘anti-aging’ effects of the drug.” If you scour the Internet, you will find medical experts and organizations who agree with Perls.
At the same time, proponents of Gerovital H3, including users, point to the fact that the drug is used around the world and that it (reportedly) yields good results, ranging from improvements in skin appearance to lowering of cholesterol and blood pressure. A quick and unscientific review of some of the comments made on forums and in chat rooms reveals a mixture of satisfied and unsatisfied customers, with a common thread being the advice to get a "pure" product from Romania, although any such guarantee is virtually impossible when dealing with unregulated products.
Gerovital H3 and its variations (of which there are several, with varying ingredients) are banned in the United States for antiaging purposes. Until and unless Gerovital H3 undergoes well-controlled trials, consumers in search of an antiaging “remedy” might do better eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, practicing stress management, taking natural supplements (e.g., curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids), and eliminating toxic substances and habits (e.g., smoking, sunbathing, excessive drinking) from their lifestyle.
Orgogozo JM, Spiegel R. Critical review of clinical trials in senile dementia—I. Postgraduate Medicine Journal 1987 Apr; 63(738): 237-40
Perls T. The reappearance of procaine hydrochloride (gerovital h3) for antiaging. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2013 Jun; 61(6): 1024-25