There's certainly a lot of hype about human growth hormone (HGH) out in the media recently, with claims that range from it's power as an anti-aging agent, to claims of drastic weight loss. The hype has gone beyond just email and television as well, with a plethora of both new businesses as well as existing businesses offering HGH. Perhaps you've seen the small "bandit signs" on street corners, asking you to purchase HGH, with an arrow pointing to some health food store or diet clinic?
What is Natural HGH?
The natural HGH (Human growth hormone) within your body, is produced by the anterior pituitary gland. While it's present throughout your whole life, it's levels, and effects, are more prevalent during your childhood and adolescence years. HGH has a number of direct effects, including stimulating the growth of cells by increasing the levels of amino acids and an effect that builds proteins while simultaneously reducing the degeneration of proteins. It can also stimulates the breakdown of fat, in order to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a sort of fuel for your body's cells. In laymen's terms, HGH helps create energy and other fundamental building blocks for the growth of your bones and muscles.
What about Synthetic HGH?
Based on the positive effects of the natural HGH in your body, a synthetic human growth hormone was made available to doctors in 1985 for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both children and adults. These conditions include:
- Children that are remarkably small for their age
- Short bowel syndrome
- Pituitary tumors that have affected natural HGH levels
- Muscle-loss and muscle wasting conditions that are associated with HIV
- Turner's syndrome, a condition that stunts growth in young girls.
- Prader-Willi syndrome, an rare genetic disorder
Despite all the recent hoopla around HGH, the list above, plus a few other more medically significant conditions, are the only FDA approved uses for HGH.
Does it have an Anti-Aging Effect?
While you'll have no trouble finding someone that will sell you HGH with promises of rolling back the clock, the simple fact is that there's no evidence showing this effect. Studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Hau Liu (Stanford University), and numerous others confirm it. This overview from the Mayo Clinic sums it up well:
"There's little evidence to suggest human growth hormone can help otherwise healthy adults regain youth and vitality"
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has gone after companies that make anti-aging claims for HGH-derived products. Great American Products and Physician’s Choice, both larger, public companies, were ordered to pay up to $20 million back to consumers. The FTC contends that company made false and unsubstantiated claims about their product's ability to "turn back the clock".
What about Weight Loss?
Unlike the claims of anti-aging, there is evidence that synthetic HGH has promise in the area of weight loss. Specifically, it will, when administered properly, for certain patients, increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. This isn't a huge surprise, as one of the FDA-Approved uses is for treating HIV and AIDS patients that have experienced severe muscle loss.
A 1995 study performed at St Mary's Hospital Medical School in London showed very positive results. The study was specifically held to find out if HGH could counteract the effects of adults with pituitary gland deficiencies. The 6 month study concluded that HGH consistently increased lean body mass while at the same time decreasing the percentage of body fat. This study included 40 patients, with a roughly equal mix of male and female participants, and also a wide variety of patient ages, ranging from 19 to 67 years.
One issue with using HGH as a weight loss agent is that the substance has significant side effects. Short-term side effects include nausea, fluid retention, and joint pain. These short-term side effects are fairly well known, but what is less well documented are the long-term side effects. The most significant, for adult users, is it's long-term effect on insulin sensitivity. The effect is pronounced enough that is can cause the onset of diabetes. Other long-term side effects attributed to HGH include carpal tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure, and male Gynecomastia (enlargement of breast tissue).
A second issue is that most of the successful studies were related to HGH treatment for patients with specific, preexisting conditions, like AIDS-induced muscle loss, or hypopituitary deficiencies. There is no credible study yet that shows the same benefits with overweight patients that are otherwise healthy.
Lastly, there's also a danger in knowing that what you are getting is really HGH, and that it's being administered properly. All of the studies showing a weight loss benefit to HGH involved experienced doctors administering HGH by injection. HGH, in a form that can be injected, is available only from a doctor and with a prescription. As for HGH in pill or powder form? It's of no use. HGH is basically a protein, and as such will be broken down in the stomach if injested.
Based on current evidence, our recommendation is not to use HGH for either anti-aging or weight loss purposed. If, on the other hand, you have a specific medical condition, like disease-induced muscle loss or a pituitary disorder, it may be a terrific treatment option to discuss with your doctor.