According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NJM), having normal levels of human growth hormone (HGH) is an important factor in growth during childhood and maintaining the health of one’s tissues and organs throughout the lifespan. HGH is produced by the pituitary gland, and beginning in middle age (or in one’s 30s), the pituitary gland begins to reduce the amount of HGH that it produces. HGH is also known as somatotropin. Its release is controlled by the hypothalamus, the master gland, and it does play a role in metabolism and body fat ratios in individuals.
The Natural Decline of HGH
The natural reduction of human growth hormone that occurs as a result of aging has triggered an interest in the use of synthetic HGH as an anti-aging product and also its use for individuals who are interested in increasing muscle mass, lowering fat composition, or improving their performance in athletics. Otherwise, healthy people taking HGH is a controversial subject in the medical community; however, the global market for HGH is substantial and projected to be nearly 5 billion by the year 2018, according to the market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc.
Companies that market HGH products make a number of claims for their use in individuals of all ages. These include:
- Use of HGH is associated with increased muscle tone/muscle mass and decreased body fat.
- Use of HGH increases endurance and sexual energy.
- HGH can act as a mood-enhancing substance to help individuals deal with depression.
- HGH can improve cognitive capacity in elderly individuals, including memory functions.
- HGH can reduce wrinkles or improve overall skin appearance.
- HGH can improve cardiovascular functioning.
- HGH use can restore declining vision or hearing in some individuals.
- HGH can restore hair growth and reduce gray hair.
Human growth hormone can be bought in powder form. It is also used in an injectable form from suppliers that typically have medical personnel administering it via injection.
The above cited article from NJM helped fuel a number of attempts to use HGH as an anti-aging substance. The study in the article investigated the effects of administering HGH to men over the age of 60 compared to individuals who did not receive the injections of the substance. The group who got the HGH treatment displayed an increase in muscle mass, improvements in the density of their spine in the lumbar region, and a decrease in fat tissue; however, the researchers also made a number of cautions about use of the substance. They warned about potential long-term effects of administering HGH to healthy individuals, speculated that there was not any significant potential difference between using HGH injections and an appropriate exercise program, and speculated that use of HGH injections would be relatively expensive and the effects would diminish if the injections were discontinued.
Possible Dangers of Human Growth Hormone
A number of medical organizations, such as the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and research studies published in a number of different journals such as Best Practice and Research: Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, set the safe practice guidelines for the use of HGH in the treatment of a number of clinical issues. There are various conditions in children that HGH may be useful in treating and several approved uses in adults. These include:
- Diseases that result in a loss of muscular tissue, such as HIV
- Pituitary tumors that lead to a deficiency in the amounts of HGH that are released
- Short bowel syndrome, which is an intestinal disorder that results in an inability to absorb nutrients
- Surgical procedures that result in a significant removal of intestine, leading to an inability to absorb nutrients
- Other medical conditions that result in markedly low levels of HGH
The use of HGH for therapeutic reasons is approved for diseases or conditions where increased levels of HGA will result in normal functioning. Professional sources do not recommend the use of HGH injections or oral administration of high amounts of the substance as an attempt to reverse the normal processes of aging. The number of potential side effects that can occur as a result of HGH use include:
- Cardiovascular issues that can include high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis (associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke)
- Increased risk for diabetes
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Enlargement of breast tissue in men
- Damage to internal organs, including the liver and kidneys
- Abnormalities in bone tissue
- Issues with swelling in the legs and arms or general bloating
- Muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, and issues with decreased energy levels
- Increased potential to develop some types of cancer
Resources strongly recommend the use of HGA only for approved clinical purposes and in the context of adequate medical supervision. Because the reduction of HGH in one’s system is a natural process that occurs as a result of aging, it is not recommended that individuals attempt to “fool with mother nature.” However, there are some strategies that one can adopt to help maintain the ability to produce HGH.
Strategies to Maintain Health
According to a number of sources, including the textbook Endocrinology: An Integrated Approach, the maintenance of normal levels of HGH may be enhanced by:
- Getting adequate sleep: Inadequate sleep patterns can substantially reduce levels of HGH.
- Getting regular exercise: Daily exercise, especially exercise that is invigorating and taxes one’s system, can increase HGH levels.
- Losing weight: Studies indicate that excess fat, especially excess fat around the midsection, is associated with lower HGH production.
- Eating late-night snacks: Research indicates that high-protein, low carbohydrate, snacks before bed are associated with increases in HGH levels during sleep.
- Taking protein supplements: Protein supplements may help to maintain or increase levels of HGH. It appears that amino acids such as L-arginine, glutamine, and glycine may be associated with the ability to increase HGH levels. This is especially true if protein supplements are taken in conjunction with vigorous exercise, such as weight training, circuit training, etc.
The available literature is quite clear on the potential dangers of getting HGH injections or taking excessive amounts of HGH by those who do not have recognized clinical syndromes and for reasons other than the substance is recommended clinically. Even in individuals who use HGH clinically, there is risk of side effects; however, the decision to use HGH in a clinical manner is made on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis where medical professionals weigh the potential benefits of the drug against any potential side effects or long-term issues. In cases where it is clinically indicated, HGH use can have beneficial effects.
HGH is not a drug that is associated with the development of a substance use disorder. The use of the substance does not produce significant psychoactive effects, and there does not appear to be any literature indicating that one can develop physical dependence in the form of expressing both significant tolerance to and withdrawal from HGH. Certainly, any substance can be misused as in the case of getting HGH injections when they are not clinically needed.
Individuals who use extremely high amounts of HGH over long periods of time in an obsessive-compulsive manner to attempt to gain muscle mass, lose fat, or deal with age-related issues may actually suffer from some other mental health disorder. These individuals would need to be thoroughly assessed by a licensed mental health clinician to determine if their behaviors are associated with some type of psychological problem. The specific treatment for such individuals would vary depending on the specific diagnosis given to them. Medication, therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy would be recommended.