The two most famous Romanians of all time are probably Count Dracula who cheated death by feasting on the blood of humans and Nicolae Ceaucescu, who lived by sucking the lifeblood of a nation. Ceaucescu always tried to represent himself as youthful and vigorous. As he aged, films of his exploits as a hunter and athlete proliferated. The rumor was that the dictator's aging process had been slowed down by treatments with Gerovital, Romania's famous fountain of youth in an ampule. Gerovital was introduced in the 1950's as a cure for old age by the Romanian gerontologist Ana Aslan, a good friend of Ceaucescu's. Since that time people from around the world have flocked to spas in Romania to receive shots in the butt in an attempt to reverse the aging process. President Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev had little else in common, but apparently both were treated secretly with Gerovital. The Romanian government of course was very happy to foster the belief in Gerovital because one of its demonstrated effects was to trim the wallets of rich westerners. But just what did that miraculous rejuvenating serum contain? The main ingredient was procaine hydrochloride, a local anesthetic we know as Novocaine. Aslan added small amounts of benzoic acid, potassium metabisulphite and disodium phosphate which she claimed stabilized the solution and made it more effective.

According to Dr. Aslan who passed away in 1988 at the very respectable age of 91, she got on the track of Gerovital after hearing accounts from physicians who noted beneficial effects in their patients ranging from alleviation of arthritis symptoms to regrowth of hair and improved skin elasticity after administering procaine. Aslan herself carried out trials which she claimed showed increased longevity in rodents but others have not been able to duplicate these experiments. Patients taking Gerovital injections or tablets do, however, report beneficial results. Some of these of course can be accounted for by the well known and expected placebo effect, but it seems that Gerovital does have some pharmaceutical properties other than its anesthetic effect. Researchers agree that procaine hydrochloride is a weak monoamine oxidase inhibitor, in other words, that it acts as a mild antidepressant. This would appear to explain the feeling of well being claimed by its proponents. One of the breakdown products of Gerovital in the body is diethylaminoethanol, a compound that has antioxidant properties. Such substances may indeed reduce some of the damage to tissues caused by those highly reactive substances known as free radicals. But procaine is not innocous, sometimes causing allergic reactions and migraines. Scientific knowledge at this point does not warrant the use of Gerovital to counter the aging process, and its sale in North America is illegal. However there are a variety of cosmetic products that bear the name Gerovital, produced in Romania, that are available here with hopes of riding the coattails of the reputed anti-aging product. They do not contain any procaine, which in any case would not have an effect when applied topically aside from causing numbness. While the original product cannot be sold in North America since it has not been approved as a drug, it is available on the Internet. Sylvester Stallone apparently routinely injects himself with Gerovital to retain his vitality.  Well, who'se going to argue with him? Not me!

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