Stop time: Fargo physician helps patients age well
Joel Schock is an avid hunter and a runner. At 56, he's trim, with brownish hair that's begun the inevitable transition to wintry gray.
Schock has taken care of himself with proper diet and exercise, but he can't deny that the advancing years are taking their gradual toll.
But Schock isn't one to merely accept the inexorable effects of aging. He's embarked on a quest to try to slow the effects of advancing age and to enhance his quality of life.
He flew to Dubai last November to meet with a physician, who formerly practiced in the U.S. and is a leading proponent of using hormone replacement therapy for both men and women to increase vitality and slow the effects of aging.
In fact, Schock is himself a physician - and is the co-founder of the Eternity Medicine Institute in Fargo, which recently began providing hormone replacement and related treatments, as well as prescribing adherence to a strict diet and fitness improvement plan, to medically manage aging.
Since beginning treatments in November, Schock has noticed what he calls a dramatic difference in his energy and endurance levels. His body fat went from 21 percent to 6 percent. He went from doing eight pull-ups a day to 18 within one month, and he found his runs extended a mile or two, his former normal range, to three or five.
"I was shocked at the improvement," he says. "I really was. I just had no idea this was going to happen. I beat the alarm clock all the time now. I'm not as tired."
A colleague who is on the treatment and lifestyle regimen saw even more dramatic results, lowering his body fat from 33 percent to 16 percent in six months. He also has gotten off his blood-pressure medications, most of his diabetes medications, and eliminated all but one cholesterol medication.
"We're just seeing some amazing transformations," Schock says.
Kelly Stauss Carlson, a nurse practitioner at Eternity Medicine Institute, says patients for the program are in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
"Decreased libido is probably the No. 1 complaint," she says, along with "decreasing body strength, increased belly fat."
Among women, she also is treating symptoms of osteoporosis and menopause.
As people age, their bodies produce lower levels of hormones, including testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, resulting in loss of muscle mass and increased fat, among other changes in the body. Also, the body's hormone receptors don't work as well in older people.
"Most people after almost two to three months on their hormones they really notice the difference," Stauss Carlson says, although some notice a difference after one month. "The goal is to make people feel better throughout the age process."
As a doctor dealing with aging patients, Schock became frustrated over the years with the results from traditional medicine. Many patients gained weight and developed chronic diseases as they aged. In short, he too often found himself treating disease, not preventing it.
"We're trying to keep people well and not treat disease, and the whole insurance model is to treat disease."
What's involved: Careful testing, monitoring, diet and exercise.
"It goes way beyond the normal physical we could do, and the results we get are much greater. Our goal is they'll feel better and have more energy," with reduced weight, better cholesterol levels and the goal of reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.
To help reduce risks of cardiovascular disease, the institute's doctors conduct frequent testing of lipids, or fats in the bloodstream, which allows quick intervention if warning signs are found.
"We think we can identify additional risks and intervene in appropriate ways," says Schock, who is a board-certified family medicine doctor.
"Every patient is an individual," Schock says. "They can expect to spend hours with us, not 10 or 15 minutes," with routine blood test monitoring to ensure safety and to evaluate results. "There's a lot of factors that have to be taken into account."
The Eternity Medicine program involves three phases, starting with measurement, a medical history, physical assessment, and medical screening for conditions including diabetes, heart disease, hormone deficiencies, metabolic syndrome, liver and kidney disease.
The program then shifts to a second phase, mentoring, with a tailored plan involving hormone replacement - using hormones that are chemically identical to natural hormones in the human body - and dietary guidance, including nutritional supplements, as well as medication to control inflammation.
Finally, the focus moves to ongoing monitoring and evaluation of results.
The cost? The first year is $2,500, with $1,200 a year thereafter. That covers all cardio-metabolic testing, laboratory testing, physical, an extensive questionnaire and quarterly follow-up testing.
Also, Schock said, the typical patient will require medication and supplements costing between $100 and $160 a month.
The rub: Patients will have to pay for the costs, Schock says, since traditional health insurance does not cover hormone replacement therapy to manage aging.
"People who have these illnesses" - diabetes and cardiovascular disease - "probably spend that much on their co-pays and drugs anyway," Schock says, comparing the cost of Eternity's age management program to traditional treatment of serious chronic illness.
A raft of studies have documented the safety and effectiveness of hormone-replacement therapy for both men and women, provided that the hormones are chemically identical to those produced naturally by the body, Schock says.
"I think it's worth doing," he says. "I feel very comfortable that it can be done safely."
How do Schock and his colleagues at Eternity Medicine Institute define success?
"It's how the patient is feeling and looking and doing," as well as the results from testing, Schock says.
The Eternity Medicine Institute in Fargo was established six weeks ago, so results are still early. But Schock is optimistic about the longer-term results he expects, including higher energy levels.
"I think we're going to see some really good results," he says. "We certainly are seeing people who are reporting that."