Some people turn to a substance called human growth hormone (HGH) in hopes that it will keep them feeling and looking youthful. But experts say that hope is unfounded. And worse, these products can be harmful.
HGH, produced by the pituitary gland, spurs growth in children and adolescents. It also helps to regulate body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function. Produced synthetically, HGH is the active ingredient in a number of prescription drugs and in other products available widely over the Internet.
Human growth hormone might cause a number of side effects for healthy adults, including:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Increased insulin resistance
Swelling in the arms and legs (edema)
Joint and muscle pain
For men, enlargement of breast tissue (gynecomastia)
Human growth hormone might also contribute to conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease and possibly an increased risk of some cancers.
Some research suggests that side effects of human growth hormone treatments might be more likely in older adults than in younger people. Because the studies of healthy adults taking human growth hormone have been short term, it isn't clear whether the side effects could eventually dissipate or become worse.
Studies of healthy adults taking human growth hormone are limited. Although it appears that human growth hormone can increase muscle mass and reduce the amount of body fat in healthy older adults, the increase in muscle doesn't translate into increased strength. It isn't clear if human growth hormone might provide other benefits to healthy adults.
Possible side effects of HGH use include:
Nerve, muscle, or joint pain
Swelling due to fluid in the body's tissues (edema)
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Numbness and tingling of the skin
High cholesterol levels HGH can also increase the risk of diabetes and contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors.
Furthermore, if you get the drug illicitly, you may not know what you are really getting. Because of the high cost, HGH drugs have been counterfeited. If you are not getting HGH from your doctor, you may be getting an unapproved product.
You should speak with your doctor before considering any form of HGH.
Synthetic human growth hormone was developed in 1985 and approved by the FDA for specific uses in children and adults. In children, HGH injections are approved for treating short stature of unknown cause as well as poor growth due to a number of medical causes, including:
Turner's syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects a girl's development
Prader-Willi syndrome, an uncommon genetic disorder causing poor muscle tone, low levels of sex hormones, and a constant feeling of hunger
Chronic kidney disease
HGH deficiency or insufficiency
Children born small for gestational age
In adults, approved uses of HGH include:
Short bowel syndrome, a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed due to severe intestinal disease or the surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine HGH deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or their treatment
Muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS