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HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE: DO WE NEED IT?

Human Growth Hormone or HGH (also called somatotrophin) is produced by the pituitary gland. It influences the growth of cells, bones, muscles, and organs throughout the body. Production peaks at adolescence when accelerated growth occurs. If growing children have too little they remain dwarfs, while if they have too much they become giants. Sudden cessation of HGH can lead to drastic ageing, as seen with terminal AIDS patients.

HGH is one of many endocrine hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA, that all decline in production with age. Daily growth hormone secretion diminishes with age to the extent that a 60 year old may secrete only 25% of the HGH secreted by a 20 year old. The decline of growth hormone with age is sometimes referred to as somatopause, in line with menopause and the so-called andropause.

While many hormones can be replaced to deter some of the effects of ageing, HGH reaches far beyond the scope of any of these hormones. Not only does it prevent biological ageing, but it acts to significantly reverse a broad range of the signs and symptoms associated with the ageing process, including wrinkling, grey hair, decreased energy and sexual function, increased body fat and cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and more.

The trouble is, it is VERY expensive. Most people would afford it, if they were SURE it would deliver that important rejuventation effect. The question is, does it?

The most famous study on HGH is that published by Dr. Daniel Rudman in the New England Journal of Medicine [1]. Working with volunteers aged 61 to 81 at the Medical College of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Rudman used synthetically manufactured HGH injections to replicate what is created naturally in the body's own pituitary gland. The result was quite clear: six months of injections reversed the aging process from 10 - 15 years in patients who received the HGH, measured in terms of bone density, lean muscle mass and reversal of fat decline. In the control group that didn't receive HGH, the normal aging process continued.

Remember, these startling findings were published in one of medicine's most conservative journals. Anti-ageing science was born. Overnight, a vast Internet industry was spawned, with its own gobbledy-speak, trying to sell the gullible public HGH substitutes, taken by mouth. It looked like snake oil coming around again.

Since Dr. Rudman's initial findings, additional studies have supported the fact that HGH can and does not only retard aging, but also reverses the process as well. The consistent findings, which are proven over and over, are increase in lean muscle mass, loss of the belly fat, improved cardiovascular risk profile, more energy and feeling good. HGH affects almost every cell in the body, helping to regenerate skin, bones, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys to their former youthful levels. Lipid profiles are improved; the heart attack and stroke factors are diminished. Osteoporosis is blocked. That means more zest, feeling good and enjoying life; less wrinkles, stiffness and aches!

But, say the critics, this study was done on 70 and 80-year olds. It isn't "valid" for anyone else. Presumably, HGH suddenly declines on your 70th birthday and to prescribe it for a 69-year old is unethical or somehow unscientific. To me that's a bit like saying you shouldn't wear a life jacket unless you are already in the water drowning.

The "anti" brigade also points out that although lean muscle mass is increased, studies show that contractile proteins are not affected and so strength remains unchanged. I mean, come on guys! Testosterone is what takes care of muscle tone, anybody knows that, not HGH! This is the kind of folly that non-biological medicine gets into. Our bodies are a whole system, not just an HGH machine, stuck to a muscle machine, which is stuck to a pair of testicles and so on!

Even more tellingly, the boffins urge, there is not one shred of evidence that HGH will extend your life span. True. But as I constantly point out, what our anti-ageing movement is about is not so much living longer (though it counts) but feeling good, looking good, continuing to have bags of youthful energy, and avoiding those dread diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, which kill so many people with years still inside them. In other words, it's about staying fit and well until the very end.

Remember though, as I also like to point out, the demographic sub-group of keen anti-agers, who follow lifestyle advice and take care of themselves, may well live significantly longer than average; nobody knows, because nobody is studying them. But their achievements would certainly be obscured by the averaging effect of the majority millions of junk-gobbling slob-out wasters who do nothing to take care of their health (though even this suicide crowd are living longer and longer and longer, as official figures show).

CONSEQUENCES OF HGH DEFICIENCY

A topical briefings page, posted by the Society of Endocrinology, lists the following symptoms of HGH defiency:

  • Decreased energy levels
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of positive well being
  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety

They list the following clinical features:

  1. Increased body fat, particularly central adiposity (a gut!)
  2. Decreased muscle mass
  3. Decreased bone density, associated with an increased risk of fracture
  4. Increased LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and decreased HDL (good cholesterol).
  5. Decreased cardiac muscle mass
  6. Impaired cardiac function
  7. Decreased insulin sensitivity (disposition to diabetes)
  8. Accelerated atherogenesis (hardening of the arteries)

A review of the literature states that, overall, at least 80% of patients given growth hormone replacements demonstrate a significant improvement, especially in fat distribution, body composition and parameters reflecting well-being and quality of life [4].

Need I say more!

A recent study under professor SM Shalet, carried out here in my city of Manchester, at the world-famous Christie Hospital, aimed to study a number of pathological effects rectified by supplementing HGH but with a special wish to avoid "over-replacement". They studied 65 patients and one of the key selection criteria was poor quality of life (SRQ). Supplementation started with a very low dose 0.8 unit/day and aimed to normalize IGF-1 as closely as possible. The results showed that "The observed improvement in quality of life in GH deficient adults is proportionate to the degree of impairment before commencing therapy" and, furthermore, although all scales showed improvement, "that of vitality was of greatest magnitude" [2].

It all adds up to the fact that if you are deficient in growth hormone, you will benefit greatly from supplementing it. The question is: are you deficient?

Unfortunately, there are no easy tests to detect this. HGH appears in the blood at night and is present for a matter of minutes. A blood sample is very hit and miss. A better test is to use the marker IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). But this too is hardly a routine test. At least one co-worker reckons that it is not such a reliable marker as we have supposed. The gold standard is called the insulin tolerance test but it is risky and requires an in-patient basis.

I prefer to argue it this way: averages show quite clearly that we lose production of HGH as the decades pass, therefore one can safely assume that one is likely deficient. We would be far healthier with the HGH of a younger person than someone in decline. Supplementation in later decades makes sense. But why wait until you are an oldie before taking reasonable steps to put the brake on? If you were driving a car straight towards a brick wall, you would apply the brakes as soon as you knew where they were - not wait until the crash was imminent, surely?

For this reason, I think it is valid and sensible to start HGH supplementation early. But I feel strongly that it should not be taken "for life". You can snatch back some precious years but that doesn't mean you become immortal! Bearing this in mind and also invoking the Rudman study, which showed results from a six-month trial period, I think one should take HGH for no more than a year in total. Someone in their fifties would be better to stop after just 3- 4 months. You then have another period in credit, to use later in life if you wish. The idea is to wind the clock back as far as you can while taking HGH and then let it roll forward, in the natural way.

There are plenty of steps you can take to help release HGH naturally, including weight loss, exercise, plentiful sleep, diet changes and nutritional supplements (see below).

THE REGIME

Patients self-administer a prescribed daily dose of HGH, starting at 0.8 unit/day . It arrives as freeze-dried powder cartridge and is easy to store. Once reconstituted however, it must be kept refrigerated and has a life of only a few weeks. A monthly supply is arranged for the patient. Dosing is easy: simply click in the right dose, touch the custom needle gun to the skin and press the trigger.

IGF-1 is monitored regularly [3]. Also thyroid function, since hypothyroidism is a theoretical risk, even without growth disorder.

SIDE EFFECTS: the main reported side effects are headache, visual disturbance, nausea/vomiting, carpal tunnel syndrome and mild hypertension. However these are from high-dose growth failure cases; not anti-ageing. Such side effects would be quite exceptional in the low dose regime we use.

ORAL HGH

Natural secretagogues (hormone precursors) are a means of naturally stimulating HGH. Among the HGH-releasers recognized by holistic doctors are lysine, arginine, ornithine and glutamine.

Arginine is an essential amino acid, meaning it is not manufactured in the body; it has to be supplied in the food we eat. Claims for arginine include an increase in fat burning and muscle building. Arginine strengthens the thymus gland, increasing its weight and activity, boosting immunity and fighting cancer. It also promotes healing of burns and wounds while generally protecting and detoxifying the body. Finally it enhances male fertility.

The amino acid Lysine boosts the effectiveness of arginine and affects growth. Ornithine can be synthesized in the body and therefore less essential as a supplement. Similar in structure, it can be made from arginine. It definitely helps to stimulate HGH release.

Glutamine is a conditional essential amino acid but very important and cheap and easy to supplement in large doses. While one of the most abundant amino acids, it may not always be made by the body in sufficient quantities in times of stress. It is helpful to gut condition and performance and essential for the immune system. Without sufficiently available levels, the gut atrophies, nutrients are less well absorbed, and muscle and immunity are also lost.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), one of the most potent stimulators of HGH-release from the pituitary to date, is a precursor to, and breakdown product of, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), now notorious as the "date rape drug". This has put it into eclipse, though GHB is a substance that occurs naturally in every cell of the body, including the brain. The fact is that one Japanese study showed it increased HGH levels 16-fold.

Proper medical supervision by a knowledgeable physician is required in supplementing these compounds, since the glutamine-arginine-lysine stack may release insulin as well as growth hormone. We now know that raised insulin levels can be damaging and definitely SHORTENS life, so beware. Generally when HGH levels are rising, insulin levels are falling. However, if it is possible to raise insulin levels at the same time as growth hormone, it has a very high anabolic effect. That is to say the body builds up muscle and tissue, and carries out cell repair essential to reverse ageing. "You don't have to increase growth hormone very much to get a 10% to 20% rise in IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor type 1) levels, which can have a definite effect on the body," adds Mauro Di Pasquale, M.D., world-class powerlifter and one of the most knowledgeable experts in the field of anabolic and HGH-releasing compounds.

  1. The New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 323 , July 5, 1990 Number 1 "Effects of Human Growth Hormone in men over 60 years old". Daniel Rudman, et al.
  2. Clin Endocrinology (Oxf) 1999 Jun;50(6):749- "Dose titration and patient selection increases the efficacy of GH replacement in severely GH deficient adults". Shalet et al.
  3. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2000 May;52(5):537- "Pre-streatment IGF-1 level is the major determinant of GH dosage in adult GH deficiency". Shalet SM et al.
  4. Link: www.endocrinology.org/SFE/gh.htm
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