Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Even a decade ago, when someone was concerned about aging, hair coloring and anti-wrinkle cream were about the only answers. Now, thanks to more than 2,000 physicians nationwide who are taking anti-aging methods seriously, medical practices are offering advice and guidelines for a healthier, longer life.
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, a former member of the University of West Georgia Foundation, Inc. Board of Trustees, is one of these pioneer physicians who has completed a fellowship in anti-aging — she was even in the first graduating class in 2007.
“All of us want to stay healthy longer,” Fitzgerald said. “My job is not to tell people what to do, but to share the latest research that is available and help patients make intelligent decisions, and sometimes that means making the most intelligent guesses.”
Research changes rapidly on such topics as nutrition, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, early prevention of disease, etc. An individual’s awareness of, and response to the interconnectivity of, all of these contributes to their longevity.
“Anti-aging looks at nutrition, hormones, metabolism, early predictors for cardiovascular disease and any conditions for which a patient may be genetically at risk,” Fitzgerald said. “We want to identify at-risk conditions and fix them before the patient gets sick.”
Every disease is a process and Fitzgerald explains the anti-aging intervention using the example of diabetes. The ideal fasting insulin level is two and the diabetic level when most people are treated is 30. Many patients do not begin treatment until the level is discovered at 30.
“We want to start working with patients when that number is 10 or less, when there is a greater opportunity to permanently control the disease so patients can stay healthier longer,” she explained.
“Early blood work can often identify these types of conditions so that they may even be reversed.”
Fitzgerald stresses nutritional education. For instance, metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels and belly fat that increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, is directly related to nutrition.
“What you eat produces the chemicals you put into your body and basic bio-chemical interactions are what trigger many diseases, possibly even Alzheimer’s,” she noted.
While anti-aging is not a medical specialty yet, Fitzgerald absolutely believes that it will be within a few years due to the aging population. The number of people 70 years old and over has increased 50 percent in the last 10 years, and life expectancy is almost 80 years. In 1900, it was only 47 years. That increased to 65 years after Medicare and Social Security programs were established.
“It doesn’t cost any more in medical resources to care for a healthy 80-year-old than it does to care for a healthy 30-yearold,” she said. “So keeping people healthy solves many social and financial problems in our country.”
Fitzgerald’s original specialty is obstetrics and gynecology, but now 10 percent of her practice consists of male patients interested in being proactive in anti-aging.
“My first male patients were the husbands of my female patients and now the males are the ones making referrals to me. But the only thing I examine is their blood work,” she added with a laugh.
Fitzgerald has had an interesting professional journey. She graduated from Emory Medical School in 1977 and served in the Air Force for four years in active duty and four years in the Reserves through a special program to pay for her medical school training. Her husband, Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald, accepted an offer to begin an emergency room department at Tanner Medical Center so they moved to Carrollton and she opened her OB/GYN practice.
She has served as president of the Georgia OB/GYN Society, was a visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation where she published a paper on reforming health care, and she has been an assistant clinical professor at Emory Medical School.
Following her passion to reform medical care, she ran for Congress and served as medical advisor to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the late Sen. Paul Coverdale. She is currently the chair of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a problem solving think tank.
Her practice concentrating on anti-aging is “another” new beginning for Fitzgerald.
“In all of my career, I’ve loved delivering babies and I’ve loved performing surgery,” she said. “But this is the most fun I’ve ever had in medicine!”