Is Human Growth Hormone (HGH) safe? The short answer is that when used in physiologic doses and levels are carefully monitored it is extremely safe. Patients that use HGH experience a reduction in body fat, increases in lean muscle, have improvements in their cholesterol, sleep better, recover from workouts faster and even improvement in memory and cognition. There are major medical studies that show patients who supplement with HGH have an improvement in “overall quality of life.” In this post I will discuss the risks, benefits and what the medical literature says regarding the use of HGH.
First let me give you a quick summary of what HGH is. HGH is a hormone (191 amino acids) that is produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. It is primarily secreted at night in a pulsatile pattern under the control of Growth Hormone Secreting Hormone (GHRH) which is released by the hypothalamus. Once HGH is secreted it increases the production of a compound called IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor-1) primarily in the liver and kidneys.
HGH is secreted in adolescence and early adulthood and is responsible for the growth and development of lean body mass (muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments and organs). It also reduces body fat and improves cholesterol which overall increases the metabolism of patients. HGH levels peak at puberty and decline as we age. Some studies show a 50% reduction in circulating hormone levels every 7 years.
It is no coincidence that as we age and lose growth hormone we have an increase in abdominal fat, a reduction in lean tissue (skeletal muscle), decreased bone mass, poorer wound healing and worsening cholesterol metabolism. Patients also experience many symptoms to include fatigue, poor memory, joint pain, muscle pain, poor endurance and difficulty sleeping. Many patients will say “I just don’t have the energy and endurance I used to and it takes me longer to recover from work outs.”
The question you as a patient need to ask is this: Is HGH safe to use and if so why aren’t physicians recommending this to all of us as we age. I have asked myself the same question many times. Specifically, why don’t they teach us this in medical school? To answer these questions honestly I turned to the medical literature to see exactly what the science says about using HGH to combat the symptoms of growth hormone deficiency.
What the literature shows is this: if used in physiologic doses and monitored by a physician, HGH provides significant benefits to relieving symptoms, preventing osteoporosis, reducing fat, improving lean body mass and improving cholesterol. At the bottom of this post I posted the summary of many of the medical journals and the conclusions they came to.
What are the side effects? Keep in mind that NSAIDs like Motrin (ibuprofen) and Alleve (narposyn) kill over 17,000 patients each year as a result of side effects. Or consider that over 10,000 patients each year die from taking aspirin. Despite this many physicians claim that HGH is dangerous. Here are the potential side effects of using HGH in the literature. Some patients experience edema (swelling), arthralgias (joint pain) and carpal tunnel syndrome. That is it! No one dies, no one gets cancer, and no one ends up in the hospital like the many of the drugs physicians are prescribing every day. All of these side effects are reduced when you use physiologic doses (typically start at 0.2mg per day and go to 0.4mg or 0.6mg).
When your physician or someone tells you something you should always ask them if what they are saying is backed up in the medical literature. There are physicians who will say “Growth Hormone increases cancer risk” when the facts are that the medical literature shows a reduction in the risk for cancer in patients who use it. You may here “growth hormone can increase your risk of diabetes” which has only been shown when the doses used are 10-20x what is commonly prescribed. The literature shows that when used appropriately, it reduces your risk of diabetes because it reduces body fat and increases lean muscle. Here is where I am different. Below are major studies in major medical journals discussing the benefits of using physiologic doses of HGH. They back up everything you just read in this blog.
1) Gibneyy, J.D. The Effects of 10 Years of Recombinant Human Growth Hormone in Adult GH Deficient Patients, J Clin Endocrinol Metab 84: 2596-2602, 1999
“In conclusion, growth hormones treatments for 10 years in growth hormone deficient adults resulted in increased lean body and muscle mass, a less atherogenic lipid profile, reduced carotid intima media thickness, and improved psychological well being.”
* This is THE most respected journal in the endocrinology community. This study showed that HGH reduces fat, increases muscle and makes it less likely that you will clog your arteries which leads to heart attack and stroke.
2) A 10 Year, Prospective Study of the Metabolic Effects of Growth Hormone Replacement in Adults. J Clinical Endocrin Metab Vol. 92, No 4 1442-1445
“The reduction in body fat was sustained during the 10 yr study period. There was a significant improvement in serum lipid profile and after 10 yr, and blood glycosylated hemoglobin was reduced.”
* What this is saying is that patients lost fat, had an improvement in their cholesterol and improvement in their blood sugars as measured by the HgBA1C. We are constantly telling patients they need to improve their cholesterol, but instead of optimizing hormones we give them “statin” drugs which only work in 1/60 patients in preventing a hear attack or stroke and have significant side effects.
3) Lena Wiren, Beneficial effects of long-term GH replacement therapy on quality of life in adults with GH deficiency, Clinical Endocrinology 1998 48, 613-620
“Quality of life tends to be adversely affected in adults with Growth Hormone deficiency.” “These results indicate that the previously reported beneficial effects of GH therapy on quality of life in GH deficient adults are sustained during long term therapy.”
*Another major endocrinology journal supporting the benefits of using GH therapy in adults.
4. Lewis S Blevins, Beneficial Effects of Growth Hormone Replacement in Growth Hormone Deficient Adults, The Endocrinologist CME Review Article #26
“Adult Growth Hormone deficiency (AGHD) is associated with a reduction in lean body and muscle mass, an increased risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, reduced muscle strength and impaired physical fitness, and decreased bone mass. The physical changes are often accompanied by impairment in psychological well-being. Growth hormone(GH) replacement therapy has proven to be beneficial in increasing lean body and muscle mass. Importantly, GH replacement therapy has significant positive effects on lipid profiles and central adiposity, two major cardiovascular risk factors.”
5. Basal growth hormone concentration in the blood and the risk of prostate cancer: A Case Controlled Study, The Prostate Volume 64, Issue 2, Pages 109-115
“We found a significant trend of decreasing prostate cancer risk across increasing growth hormone quintiles.” “Lower basal levels of growth hormone in serum are associated with increased prostate cancer risk.”
* Here is study #1 that show growth hormone reduces the risks of cancer and patients who have GH deficiency have increased incidence of all cancers.
6. The Prostate, VOlume 51, Issue 2, Pages 141-152
“Insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 induces early apoptosis in malignant prostate cancer cells and inhibits tumor formation in vivo”
* When patients take growth hormone it increases two things: IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) and also IGF-BP3 (insulin-like binding protein-3). It is IGF-BP3 that has shown to kill cancer cells as it di din this study and reduce a patients risk for cancer. IGF-1, by itself, can stimulate the growth of tumors in petri dishes. However, when you take GH, it increases BOTH IGF-1 and IGF-BP3 which we know reduces the risks of cancer.
7. The consequences of growth hormone deficiency in adulthood, and the effects of growth hormone replacement, 1997 Aug 30, 127(35):1440-9
“Growth hormone treatment restores lean body mass, reduces fat mass, increases total body water and increases bone mass. Increase are recorded in exercise capacity and protein synthesis, and “favorable” alterations occur in plasma lipids. In addition, psychological well-being and quality of life improve with replacement therapy.”
8. Growth Hormone Therapy in the Elderly: Implications for the Aging Brain. Psychoneuroendocrinology, Vol 17 No 4 pp. 327-333
“Initial reports suggest that growth hormone can increase muscle mass, improve exercise tolerance, increase REM sleep and cause an enhanced sense of well-being. The basis for neuropsychiatric changes during GH therapy may be due to a direct CNS (central nervous system) action of GH itself”
* How many adults with depression and loss of motivation due to not being able to stay active are getting growth hormone? The answer is very few if any. They instead get prescribed anti-depressants.
9. Thord Rosen, Dept of internal Medicine, U of Goteborg, Sweden August 10, 1993, Decrease psychological well-being in adult patients with growth hormone deficiency,
“Adult patient with growth hormone deficiency have a decreased psychological well-being in terms of energy, social isolation and emotional reaction and a disturbed sex life compared with normals. Furthermore, there is a tendency to a higher frequency of early retirement.”
10. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2002 Mar; 87(3):1088-93
“The cardiovascular risk of adult GH deficiency improved after GH replacement and worsened in untreated growth hormone deficient adults.”
For more information feel free to call Dr. Sean Breen at 949-529-0493. He is a preventive medicine and age management expert and has a private clinic in Irvine, CA