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HGH - Human Growth Hormone and Aging

Can HGH make you younger?

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Updated May 26, 2009

The human growth hormone (HGH) is a hormone that is made by your body in the pituitary gland and many claim has anti aging properties. It is often marketed as an anti-aging hormone. In children, it is important for normal growth. In adults, HGH helps regulate and maintain your tissues and organs. Children sometime receive HGH injections because a lack of HGH in their body is impacting their growth rate.

HGH and Aging

Like many hormones, HGH levels decrease as a person gets older. This is a normal part of aging. HGH is becoming a popular anti-aging supplement. Because HGH is only available in injection form (other forms of HGH have not been proven effective) HGH must be given by a doctor. The cost for one year of HGH injections can be more than $15,000. The saddest part is that there has been little research on HGH and aging –- one study shows that lower HGH levels correlate to increased longevity compared to people with high HGH levels.

HGH Benefits

While HGH is not the fountain of youth that people claim, there are some benefits to HGH supplementation. Of course, anyone whose body lacks the ability to make HGH would benefit from this medical treatment. HGH also increase muscle mass (but not strength). Some people claim to have more energy and feel better on HGH supplementation, but no study has been done to rule out the placebo effect (which is likely to be strong if a person is paying $15,000 for treatments).

Why All the Buzz Around HGH?

In 1990, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine by Rudman that showed HGH improved the muscle tone and body composition of 12 older men. That tiny piece of research led to an unexpected boom in quacks and “anti-aging” doctors selling HGH-based “Cures for Aging.” Today, there are oral formulas of HGH, injections and even inhaled versions of human growth hormone. Other studies since 1990 have given mixed results. The only firm conclusion is that going to the gym can provide more benefits than HGH (if there are any benefits of HGH at all) with far less cost and risk.

Side Effects of Human Growth Hormone

The side effects of HGH are serious. They include diabetes, swelling, high blood pressure and even heart failure. Inflammation can also occur, causing joint pain and carpel tunnel syndrome. There is also an increased risk of cancer in children using HGH supplementation and a possible increase risk of cancer in adults (though no long-term studies have been done to prove or disprove the cancer risk of HGH).

Bottom Line

At the moment, there is not enough evidence to recommend HGH as an anti-aging supplement. This risks, dangers and costs are far too great for anyone to be experimenting with HGH. If you talk with a doctor who recommends HGH for anti-aging, find another doctor (of course, HGH has other valid medical indications like pituitary problems in children).

Sources:

National Institute on Aging. National Institutes of Health. Pills, Patches and Shots: Can Hormones Prevent Aging?.

Rudman D, Feller AG, Nagraj HS, et al. Effects of human growth hormone in men over 60 years old. N Engl J Med 1990;323:1-6.

Vance, ML. Can Growth Hormone Prevent Aging? New England Journal of Medicine. Volume 348: 779-780. Feb 27, 2003.

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