HGH

Growth hormone fuels childhood growth and helps maintain tissues and organs throughout life. It’s produced by the pea-sized pituitary gland — located at the base of the brain. Beginning in middle age, however, the pituitary gland slowly reduces the amount of growth hormone it produces.

This natural slowdown has triggered an interest in using synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) as a way to stave off some of the changes linked to aging, such as decreased muscle and bone mass.

HGH

If you’re skeptical, good. There’s little evidence to suggest HGH can help otherwise healthy adults regain youth and vitality. Alternatively, HGH treatments may increase the risk of other medical conditions. Experts recommend against using HGH to treat aging or age-related conditions.

Do some adults need HGH treatment?

Adults who have a growth hormone deficiency — not the expected decline in growth hormone due to aging — might be prescribed synthetic HGH by their health care provider.

Growth hormone deficiency is usually caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland (pituitary adenoma) or by treatment of an adenoma with surgery or radiotherapy.

For adults who have a growth hormone deficiency, injections of HGH can:

  • Increase exercise capacity
  • Increase bone density
  • Increase muscle mass
  • Decrease body fat

HGH treatment is also approved to treat adults with AIDS- or HIV-related growth hormone deficiency that causes irregular distribution of body fat.

How does HGH treatment affect healthy older adults?

Studies of healthy adults taking human growth hormone are limited and contradictory. Although it appears that human growth hormone can increase muscle mass and reduce the amount of body fat in healthy older adults, the increase in muscle doesn’t translate into increased strength. It isn’t clear if human growth hormone provides other benefits to healthy adults.

What are the risks of HGH treatment?

What are the risks of HGH treatment

HGH treatment might cause a number of side effects for healthy adults, including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Increased insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Swelling in the arms and legs (edema)
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • For men, enlargement of breast tissue (gynecomastia)
  • Increased risk of certain cancers

Clinical studies of HGH treatment in healthy older adults have been relatively small and short in duration, so there’s little to no information about the long-term effects of HGH treatment.

Does HGH come in pill form?

HGH treatment is approved in the United States only for treatment of growth hormone deficiency — and related problems associated with HIV infection. HGH is only effective if administered as an injection.

There’s no pill form of human growth hormone available. Some dietary supplements that claim to boost levels of HGH come in pill form, but research doesn’t show a benefit.

HGH is considered a controlled substance by the Food and Drug Administration. Using HGH for a condition that isn’t approved, such as building muscle or as an anti-aging treatment in older adults, is illegal.

What’s the bottom line?

If you have specific concerns about aging, ask your health care provider about proven ways to improve your health. Remember, healthy lifestyle choices — such as eating a healthy diet and including physical activity in your daily routine — can help you feel your best as you get older.

What's the bottom line

Some people turn to a substance called human growth hormone (HGH) in hopes that it will keep them feeling and looking youthful. But experts say that hope is unfounded. And worse, these products can be harmful.

HGH, produced by the pituitary gland, spurs growth in children and adolescents. It also helps to regulate body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function. Produced synthetically, HGH is the active ingredient in a number of prescription drugs and in other products available widely over the Internet.

HGH Uses and Abuses

Synthetic human growth hormone was developed in 1985 and approved by the FDA for specific uses in children and adults. In children, HGH injections are approved for treating short stature of unknown cause as well as poor growth due to a number of medical causes, including:

  • Turner’s syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects a girl’s development
  • Prader-Willi syndrome, an uncommon genetic disorder causing poor muscle tone, low levels of sex hormones, and a constant feeling of hunger
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • HGH deficiency or insufficiency
  • Children born small for gestational age

In adults, approved uses of HGH include:

  • Short bowel syndrome, a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed due to severe intestinal disease or the surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine
  • HGH deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or their treatment
  • Muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS

But the most common uses for HGH are not FDA-approved. Some people use the hormone, along with other performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids in an attempt to build muscle and improve athletic performance. Yet HGH’s effect on athletic performance is unknown.

HGH Uses and Abuses

Because the body’s HGH levels naturally decrease with age, some so-called anti-aging experts have speculated and claimed that HGH products could reverse age-related bodily deterioration. But these claims, too, are unproven. The use of HGH for anti-aging is not FDA-approved.

Nevertheless, some people obtain injectable HGH from doctors who prescribe it for off-label purposes (uses for which it was not approved by the FDA) and through Internet pharmacies, anti-aging clinics, and web sites.

Others purchase HGH products — or products that claim to increase your body’s own production of HGH — in the form of pills and sprays. Companies that market these products on TV infomercials or online claim they turn back your body’s biological clock, reducing fat, building muscle, restoring hair growth and color, strengthening the immune system, normalizing blood sugar, increasing energy and improving sex life, sleep quality, vision, and memory. However, the Federal Trade Commission has seen no reliable evidence to support the claim that these products have the same effects as prescription HGH, which is always given by injection. Taken orally, HGH is digested by the stomach before it can be absorbed into the body.

HGH Side Effects and Other Hazards

Possible side effects of HGH use include:

  • Nerve, muscle, or joint pain
  • Swelling due to fluid in the body’s tissues (edema)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Numbness and tingling of the skin
  • High cholesterol levels

HGH can also increase the risk of diabetes and contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors.

Furthermore, if you get the drug illicitly, you may not know what you are really getting. Because of the high cost, HGH drugs have been counterfeited. If you are not getting HGH from your doctor, you may be getting an unapproved product.

You should speak with your doctor before considering any form of HGH.

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