Finding the secret formula would be the Holy Grail of the beauty industry. Could scientists ever develop a pill that makes you look — and feel — younger?
It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. After all, most sensible women realised long ago that the secret to staying youthful lies as much in what we put inside our bodies as what we slather on the outside.
But despite the millions poured into research, no one has ever successfully managed to put together a pill to reverse the signs of ageing that stands up to scientific scrutiny. Or have they?
In the past few months, three pills have come on the market that claim to visibly reduce the signs of ageing within a matter of months. Unlike many traditional beauty supplements — which are designed to boost the body's natural levels of vitamins and minerals — these wrinkle-busting pills rely on a far more sophisticated technology known as 'nutrigenomics'.
This means the producers use the principles of genetic science to create nutritional supplements that, they say, can affect the way the body works.
Using a carefully-designed cocktail of ingredients, these manufacturers say they are able to stimulate the genes responsible for producing vital youth hormones such as oestrogen. This can help plump ageing skin and make us look and feel younger.
The companies behind the pills claim this approach means it's now possible to 'reset' the body's hormonal clock, erasing wrinkles and raising energy levels.
The resulting products have been formulated specifically for women over 40, as this is the age when the most dramatic hormone changes occur. But, unlike HRT, they do not have to be prescribed and can be bought over the counter or online at an average cost of between £1 and £2 a day.
Dr Daniel Sister, President of the International College for Anti-Ageing, Nutrition & Aesthetic Medicine, is one of the experts behind this new generation of pills. He says: 'As we age, the levels of certain hormones naturally decrease, resulting in skin that is dryer and less elastic, loss of energy, loss of libido and many other problems that we associate with ageing — including slower recovery time from injuries, brittle bones, less muscle mass, and thinning hair.
'But compounding that problem is the fact that age also makes the body less effective when it comes to extracting key nutrients from our diet. This means that the hormones the body does make are of a poorer quality.'
This is why a pill that claims to be able to improve the levels of these hormones and improving the quality of them at the same time really could be the youth drug that we've all been searching for.
However, some experts remain sceptical. Endocrinologist Professor Jonathan Seckl, of Edinburgh University, says that while the new supplements are not likely to do any harm, caution is necessary as the side-effects of more than the recommended doses of certain ingredients may not yet be fully understood.'
Professor Seckl also questioned whether these pills would have any positive effect on health, particularly in people who already eat a balanced diet, because the body usually gets all the nutrients it requires from food. 'These products might change your hormones, but might not,' he says. 'There needs to be proper scientific assessment.
'What is hard to quantify is the placebo affect — people are taking something and it is making them feel good, but what else has changed in their lifestyle?'
So are the 'elixirs of youth' all just hype — or could they really reverse the signs of ageing? Here, we examine the three new products:
£35 for a month's supply,Impressive clinical trial results presented last week at the Society for Investigative Dermatology conference in Atlanta, in the U.S., have already made this anti-ageing pill an instant sell-out.
According to the research carried out by Unilever, the company behind the pill, tests on 480 women in the UK, France and Germany, showed that it was able to reduce crow's feet around the eyes by up to 30 per cent in 14 weeks.
The manufacturers claim that the tablet, designed to be taken three times a day, 'kick-starts old skin cells into behaving like younger skin cells.'
While the key ingredients are all ones that you might find in your fridge, here they are present in far higher concentrations than you might ordinarily encounter.
There are vitamin C and E, isoflavones from soya, lycopene from tomatoes and omega-3 from fish oils. They work by activating the genes to produce oestrogen and collagen — the protein that gives skin its strength and bounce. The result is a reduction in wrinkles and sun damage in the deep level of the skin.
REVIVE Q10 PLUS
£60.86 for a month's supply,Revive Q10 Plus is a soluble powder taken once a day that contains the amino acid L-Arginine, which has been shown in scientific studies to improve blood flow to the heart and brain.
Devotees of the supplement say it can plump skin, thicken hair and smooth wrinkles.
But, more interestingly, recent research carried out in association with a cardiovascular specialist has suggested that the anti-ageing benefits of the supplement could extend beyond the merely superficial. A study, revealed at an anti-ageing conference in London last week, looked at how the amino acids found in Revive Q10 Plus affect cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity.
The research, which was carried out at University College Hospital, Galway, involved eight patients with type 2 diabetes who were able to reduce their cholesterol-lowering medication while taking L-Arginine and Co-Enzyme Q10 — the key components of the supplement.
Five of these patients, all in their 50s, were also able to come off insulin — meaning their bodies had naturally been able to regulate their blood sugar levels. Vascular surgeon Sherif Sultan, who led the research, believes that in the future the answers to both cosmetic anti-ageing and more serious health complaints will not be gene therapies or stem cell cures, but the sort of amino acids found within these new supplements.
YOUTHDr Daniel Sister has more than a few celebrities paying discreet visits to his West London clinic in a bid to maintain their looks.
The latest weapon in his anti-ageing arsenal is a twice-a-day supplement he modestly calls 'Youth'.
This formula contains Arginine, Lysine and Glutamine — powerful amino acids which can help stimulate the body's hormones.
A marine plant extract called superoxide dismutase — proven to repair cells and reduce the damage done by molecules known as free radicals, a major cause of wrinkles — is also included.
In the past year, Youth has been tested on 20 men and women over the age of 40 in the UK, including jewellery designer Dinny Hall, above, and all of them have reported positive effects on their skin, hair and energy levels after taking it for four weeks.
Some testers go further, insisting that the supplement has not only improved their flexibility and sleep patterns, but also their concentration and libido.