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December 2002 | Year 4: Issue 12

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Newsletter Home » Growth Hormone No Fountain of Youth

Growth Hormone No Fountain of Youth

Growth hormone is advertised by many anti-aging clinics as a miracle "cure" for aging. However, a recent study found that the benefits of growth hormone are limited and taking the drug may pose serious health risks.

Human growth hormone (HGH), which is naturally produced in the brain by the pituitary gland, is most plentiful in our bodies during adolescence and then declines with age. A synthetic version of HGH has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in children with difficulty growing and in adults to treat conditions such as severe growth hormone deficiency and to reverse muscle wasting associated with AIDS.

It is estimated that tens of thousands of Americans take growth hormone for its possible anti-aging effects despite ongoing debate on the issue.

The recent 26-week study followed 131 people between the ages of 65 and 88 years. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups, each of which received a different combination of growth hormone, sex steroid (testosterone for men, hormone replacement therapy for women), placebo growth hormone, and/or placebo sex steroid.

At the end of the study, both men and women who were given growth hormone gained muscle and shed fat, though amounts were limited. Women gained about 2 to 5 pounds of muscle and lost about 5 pounds of fat, while men gained about 7 to 10 pounds of muscle and lost a similar amount of fat.

However, only one group -- men who received growth hormone and testosterone -- showed actual functional improvements in endurance and strength. The cardiovascular endurance of men in this group increased eight percent and muscle strength increased seven percent.

While findings suggest that growth hormone may play some role in fighting aging, small improvements in strength and endurance may not make much of a difference in performing daily tasks. Additionally, during the study eighteen men taking growth hormone developed either diabetes or glucose intolerance, compared with seven men not taking growth hormone. Other side effects, which were most common in men, included swelling of the arms and legs, carpal tunnel syndrome, and joint. Growth hormone is also known to raise blood insulin levels, which may promote breast and prostate cancers.

The study noted that there could be unknown side effects as well and pointed out that the elderly are more likely to react adversely to growth hormone than children. Additional studies are needed to fully determine the benefits and risks of growth hormone in aging people.

JAMA November 13, 2002;288:2282-2292

Dr. Group's Blog

Editor-In-Chief: Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

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