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By Mark Stibich, PhD Updated May 24, 2019
The human growth hormone (HGH) is a hormone that is made by your body in the pituitary gland and many claim have anti-aging properties. It is often marketed as an anti-aging hormone for adults. In children, it is important for normal growth. In adults, HGH helps regulate and maintain your tissues and organs. Children sometimes receive HGH injections because a lack of the hormone in their body is impacting their growth rate.
HGH and Aging
Like many hormones, HGH levels decrease as a person gets older. This is a normal part of aging. HGH is becoming a popular anti-aging supplement. Because the hormone is only available in injection form (other forms of HGH have not been proven effective) it must be given by a doctor. The cost for one year of HGH injections can be more than $15,000. The saddest part is that there has been little research on the hormone and aging. One study shows that lower HGH levels correlate to increased longevity compared to people with high levels.
Benefits and Costs
While human growth hormone is not the fountain of youth that people claim, there are some benefits to HGH supplementation. Of course, anyone whose body lacks the ability to make the hormone would benefit from this medical treatment. HGH also increases muscle mass (but not strength). Some people claim to have more energy and feel better on HGH supplementation, but no study has been done to rule out the placebo effect (which is likely to be strong if a person is paying $15,000 for treatments).
Why All the Buzz?
In 1990, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine by Rudman that showed HGH improved the muscle tone and body composition of 12 older men. That tiny piece of research led to an unexpected boom in quacks and “anti-aging” doctors selling HGH-based “Cures for Aging.” Today, there are oral formulas of HGH, injections and even inhaled versions of human growth hormone. Other studies since 1990 have given mixed results. The only firm conclusion is that going to the gym can provide more benefits than HGH (if there are any benefits of HGH at all) with far less cost and risk.
The side effects of HGH are serious. They include diabetes, swelling, high blood pressure, and even heart failure. Inflammation can also occur, causing joint pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. There is also an increased risk of cancer in children using HGH supplementation and a possible increased risk of cancer in adults (though no long-term studies have been done to prove or disprove the cancer risk of HGH).
At the moment, there is not enough evidence to recommend HGH as an anti-aging supplement. This risks, dangers, and costs are far too great for anyone to be experimenting with human growth hormone. If you talk with a doctor who recommends HGH for anti-aging, find another doctor.