Some Notes on Gerovital and Related Products

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Gerovital H3 (GH3) is one of many substances falsely claimed to retard aging. GH3 was developed by Dr. Anna Aslan (1897-1988), a Romanian physician, who began publicizing it during the mid-1950s. Injectable and oral products studied during the 1980s consisted of procaine chloride, with benzoic acid (a preservative), potassium metabisulfite (an antioxidant) antioxidant, and disodium phosphate (a buffering agent) [1].

The Romanian National Tourist Office, a few American physician, and a parade of independent marketers have promoted it as an anti-aging substance—"the secret of eternal vigor and youth." Claims have been made that GH3 can prevent or relieve a wide variety of disorders, including arthritis, arteriosclerosis, angina pectoris and other heart conditions, neuritis, deafness, Parkinson's disease, depression, senile psychosis, and impotence. It is also claimed to stimulate hair growth, restore pigmentation to gray hair, and tighten and smoothen skin. The main ingredient in GH3 is procaine, a substance used for local anesthesia.

In 1977, a review commissioned by the National Institute of Aging concluded that although many uncontrolled studies describe great benefits from the use of GH3, controlled trials using procaine have failed to demonstrate any. Low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, and convulsions have been reported among users [2]. A recent Cochrane Review that examined studies of products identified as KH3, novocain, GH3, trofibial, Zell H3, Vitacel, GH7, or Ultimate 9 concluded:

This review suggests that the evidence for detrimental effects of procaine and its preparations is stronger than the evidence for benefit in preventing and/or treating dementia or cognitive impairment. There is some evidence from older studies that procaine preparations might improve memory in persons without cognitive impairment. However, the clear evidence of side effects suggests that the risks might outweigh the benefits. In the light of this, the strong marketing claims for procaine preparations should be withdrawn until trials of adequate size, duration and quality have been conducted [3].

Noting that para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) appears in the urine of people receiving procaine injections, a few American manufacturers have been selling procaine tablets containing PABA with false claims similar to those made for GH3. Federal agencies have taken regulatory action against several "GH3" marketers, and the FDA has issued an import alert [4]. But similar products are still widely marketed.

References

  1. Thomas R. Procaine: Will it keep you younger? Medical Journal of Australia 1:543-545, 1983.
  2. Ostfield A and others. The systematic use of procaine in the treatment of the elderly: a review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 25:1-19, 1997.
  3. Szatmáru S, Bereczki D. Procaine treatments for cognition and dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Oct 8;(4):CD0059, 2008.
  4. Gerovital (KH3 - GH3, Etc.). FDA Import Alert #61-01, Oct 2, 2009.
This article was revised on February 27, 2011.

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