Longevity doctors, the newest breed of celebrity physician darlings on the morning talk show circuit, are revitalizing the field of functional medicine. But just because they’re part of a current trend doesn’t mean we should discount their messaging offhand. The concept is a simple one; instead of focusing on the treatment of diseases, longevity doctors take an integrative approach to maximizing your bodily functions for a healthier aging process. So instead of working to maintain your health, longevity doctors want to improve upon it.

What is a Longevity Doctor?

Although the term “longevity doctor” has been coined fairly recently, the theories behind the practice have existed under different buzzwords for quite some time. Holistic medicine, integrative medicine, functional medicine… these are all slightly nuanced ways of describing the same thing: a medical practice in which doctors treat the whole person, not merely the symptoms, to heal the root causes of an illness. In short, longevity docs work to get the body to function at its best.

Since longevity as a focus is relatively new, the definition of a longevity doctor remains pretty vague. Currently, the closest board-certification program available is the American Board of Anti-Aging/Regenerative Medicine course, but this isn’t a requirement for a physician to market themselves as a longevity doctor. Many longevity doctors have taken continuing educational courses to incorporate evidence-based anti-aging research into their practices, and they hold certifications in functional medicine, integrative medicine, naturopathic medicine or something similar.

Do I Need a Longevity Doctor?

You might want to pursue seeing a longevity doctor if you would prefer to focus on maximizing your health, rather than just maintaining it. Longevity doctors typically recommend more screening procedures and nutrition- and exercise-related goals. 

For example, Dr. Neil Paulvin, a longevity researcher and regenerative medicine doctor currently on a press tour, touts things like the benefits of eating a handful of blueberries every day. Or Dr. Peter Attia, longevity physician and bestselling author, thinks we should adopt new ways of looking at our health entirely. He argues that we could all do a better job of matching our lifespan (how long we live) with our “health span” (how long we live free from chronic disease or other health problems), and thus make sure our last decade of life is healthful and rewarding. In an interview with the Washington Post last fall, he talked about “the Four Horsemen of Chronic Disease” (cardiovascular diseases, cancer, cognitive diseases and metabolic diseases) and new ways to plan for a better “marginal decade.” In his opinion, the goal is to be able to function like a 65-year-old at the age of 80, and one of the ways you do that is by exercising: 

“If you’re starting from zero [minutes of exercise], just getting 90 minutes a week of exercise will result in a 15% reduction of all-cause mortality [including the Four Horsemen],” he says. “That’s dramatic. I mean, we don’t have drugs that can [do that].” As an added bonus, getting regular exercise will help you feel better in the short term, not just years down the road.

The second facet of Attia’s longevity plan has to do with increased screening, gene testing and specialized bloodwork to uncover markers that insurance typically won’t pay for. The expense can be great, but he argues that the alternative (waiting until you’re already ill to treat a disease) is just as bad, if not worse. The good news is that if you’re not able to afford out-of-pocket or direct-to-consumer medical testing, getting quality sleep, nutrition and exercise are far more relevant to increasing your health span.

What to Look For In a Longevity Doctor

As with any hunt for a personal physician or specialist, you’ll want to do your research first. When it comes to longevity medicine, there are six things you can look for:

    • Certifications: Although not required, relevant certifications in the anti-aging industry will help point to their given specialty and preferred methodology.
    • Expertise: Many longevity doctors specialize in certain ailments, which end up becoming part of their expertise. These should be easily found on their website or a doctor-search bio page.
    • Consultations: Always try to request a consultation, and be aware that the “consult” goes in both directions. You should assess how thorough they are, what questions they ask about your diet, lifestyle and preferences, and whether you think you’d work well together.
    • Labs: More advanced screening, lab tests and other assessments are going to play a role in longevity medicine; try to assess how comprehensive the labs will be (and whether you can afford the ones they require).
    • Process: Ask what happens after you take your labs — will there be another appointment to discuss results and recommendations, or some other means of communication?
    • Testimonials: Longevity medicine requires a personal relationship with your doctor; it’s like a partnership. Read testimonials and reviews on their website to see if you think your priorities will align.

Top image by Tyler Sayre from Getty Images, via Canva.com

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