One of the most important trends in anti-aging efforts over the last decade is the use of human growth hormone (HGH) to tip the scales against Mother Nature and Father Time in the battle to reclaim one’s youth.
HGH is a 191 amino acid protein that is produced in the pituitary gland which is embedded in the brain.
It was synthesized in 1985 and is currently FDA approved for a variety of applications including muscle wasting in AIDs patients and accelerating growth in certain children.
However the most popular recent use is this “unapproved” and “off-label” use to help turn back the clock.
HGH is produced in all humans at different levels depending on their current stage of life.
It is most prominently expressed in young and growing children, as large amounts of the protein promote the healthy transition from infant to adult.
However, once one reaches the adult years there is no need to continue to grow, so the production of the hormone slows down markedly.
At about middle age, production goes down a bit more. This reduction is believed my many to be at least somewhat responsible for the aging process.
As a result, it makes perfect sense that simply restoring the level of HGH to the levels of a young adult should help to restore a little bit of youth to people.
Indeed many prominent Holywood actors who can afford the expensive injections have been very vocal proponents of HGH injections to stave off aging. These include Suzanne Somers, Nick Nolte, and Sylvester Stallone.
Many of the individuals who take HGH enthusiastically vouched for the effectiveness of the treatment.
Such anecdotes normally include reports of more vitality, augmented energy, increased libido, and an approved ability to sleep at night within months of beginning the treatment.
That being said, many doctors are very cautious about what they see as a disturbing trend in medicine.
As they will point out, this use of HGH is not compatible with “evidence-based medicine” because there have been no long-term randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled studies to verify the efficacy of treatment or to properly characterize the side effect profile.
These are standard with nearly every FDA approved indication for a drug.
One of the reasons these studies are so important is because often the “placebo effect” can make a drug appear to work anecdotally, when it is completely inactive.
This effect refers to the psychological phenomenon that most people who believe they are taking a drug will feel better, even if they are taking in reality a completely inactive medication such as a sugar bill.
Countless studies on numerous medications have shown significant improvements in the inactive “placebo group.”
Additionally, side effects from a medication are very hard to isolate given random events in a population unless you are looking at a well controlled study.
That being said, there are some studies that do seem to confirm some limited benefits of HGH therapy.
Indeed a short term 6 month study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine showed at 9% increase in muscle mass and 14% decrease in body fat in those patients taking HGH.
Longer term studies still need to be done, but given the generic nature of the compound, finding a financial sponsor could be difficult, especially given that many take the drug already assume it works.
Some of the concerns that doctors do have in terms of side effects are the potential for increased cancer development and increased diabetes as HGH is believed to increase blood sugar levels.
Indeed the body might decrease HGH levels for a reason given that older adults are naturally more at risk for such conditions. There are also a number of HGH creams, pills, and oral solutions out there.
Nearly all physicians will agree that these products are virtually useless as HGH rapidly breaks down in the stomach and the protein is too large to effectively diffuse into the blood stream from the skin.
The only way to efficiently get growth hormone into the body is through HGH injections.
While the verdict is still out in terms of solid clinical data, many HGH enthusiasts continue to swear by the results.
Many are aware of the risks, but given their perceived improvement in quality of life, it is a risk they find well worth taking.
As more and more research is done on the subject, the clinical side effect profile and risk versus reward calculus should be better understood as experienced physicians document their results.