Human Growth Hormone (HGH), also called somatotrophin, is produced in the anterior pituitary gland by the somatotroph cells. HGH is secreted in short pulses lasting 1 - 2 hours, predominantly at night during deep sleep. HGH secretion is controlled by the hypothalamus through a negative feedback mechanism by the effects of other hormones. Exercise is proven to stimulate the release of HGH.

As HGH circulates through the blood, it stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), mainly by the liver. In addition to the role in promoting linear growth in children, it is also an anabolic hormone with stimulatory effects on protein synthesis, and the break down of fat.

HGH was used to treat dwarfism or short-stature in children, and in cases of absolute growth hormone deficiency in adults, where the pituitary gland cannot produce HGH because of other problems.

HGH used to be made from human cadaver pituitary glands, which was expensive, and had the risk of contracting a brain disease similar to the mad cow disease. Now it is made from a recombinant DNA technology (gene cloning), which enables a production of large quantities of pure, uncontaminated human growth hormone.

Measurement of HGH

Because HGH is released in spurts, a single measurement is of no value in assessing the 24 hours secretion. The blood level of IGF-I, in contrast, is more constant, and therefore it serves as an indirect but reliable measure of HGH activity.

From the third decade, an increasing proportion of men and women show decreases in growth hormone secretion and serum levels of IGF-I from the peak. Analysis has estimated an approximate 14% reduction in HGH production for each decade in adults, and it is believed that reduced HGH secretion and IGF-I account, at least in part, for the effects of aging.

Reference ranges of IGF-I for different age group:

Human Growth Hormone & Aging

In adults where there is a true and absolute deficiency of HGH, they appear to be suffering from premature aging, with twice the rate of death from cardiovascular disease compared with age-matched controls; increased abdominal fat; decreased muscle mass and strength; increased fatigue, social isolation and depression; and poor performance at work.

When these people are treated with the recombinant HGH, virtually all of these aspects of premature aging were reversed with one year of treatment, but they return to baseline when the therapy is stopped.

In ordinary adults, researches had shown that HGH replacement in men, when restoring the IGF-I level to the youthful range, can reverse the well-known body composition changes associated with aging, such as decreased muscle tone, increased abdominal fat, and thinning skin. With six months of therapy, there is on average 8.8% increase in lean body mass; 14% decrease in fat mass, predominately around the waist; 7% increase in skin thickness; 1.4% increase in bone density; and a greater sense of well-being. It is said that these changes are equivalent in magnitude to the changes incurred during 10 to 20 years of aging.

Growth Hormone Replacement Therapy

With the latest recombinant DNA technology, unlimited amount of HGH can be manufactured. The production uses mammalian cell lines and are identical structurally, chemically, and biologically to natural HGH. There is no risk of bacterial protein contamination, and allergic reactions from the immune system.

The HGH is administered by injections into the deep subcutaneous tissue or into the muscles. Today manufacturers have prepared injection pens, which the patients can use at home. They are easy to use and can be adjusted to deliver the exact number of HGH units required.

The amount of HGH prescribed, and the benefits achieved, depend on your starting level of IGF-I. If your level is below 100 ng/ml, you will likely see significant changes in body composition in the first six months. If you have a higher level, the effect of the supplementation may be to prevent these age-related changes from occurring.

Potential Benefits

  • Decrease in fat mass, after approximately 6 months, predominantly around the waist, without change in diet and exercise.
  • Increase in lean muscle mass, after six months.
  • Increase in skin thickness, and hydration of the skin.
  • Improved bone density after one year of therapy, depending on pre-treatment density.
  • Improved cardiac and lung functions, lowered diastolic blood pressure.
  • Decreased total and LDL cholesterol levels, and increased HDL levels.
  • Accelerated wound healing.
  • Increased immune system functioning.
  • Increased physical and mental energy levels.
  • Improved sleep, vision, and mood.

Side Effects & Safety

There is ample evidence to support the safety of growth hormone replacement therapy in growth hormone deficient adults, and it is likely that the same safety profile pertains in aging adults.

Side effects have been reported but were mainly related to HGH being given in much higher doses than necessary to get the body composition changes expected.

Side effects are mainly related to fluid and sodium retention, which consist of oedema, joint and muscle pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome (nerve trapped by the swelling in the wrists). These problems resolve when treatment is stopped.

Similar side effects are reported in patients on lower doses, if growth hormone is started when the patients are over 65 years of age. A low level of side effects is observed when HGH is started in men between the ages of 48 and 66, while losing more body fat and gaining more lean muscle. This is probably because the majority of the decline in growth hormone secretion takes place before age 50, and therefore it should start to be replaced at a younger age, before the body has been with a very low level of GH for decades.

Therefore, when HGH replacement is started in younger patients, there are very few side effects. When started in older patients, it must be started at low doses and increased very gradually.

Growth Hormone Secretogogues? BEWARE!

There are a lot of oral preparations available in the market, and they all claim to be either pure HGH, or effective in stimulating the release of HGH in blood, with absolutely no side effects whatsoever. The benefits listed are many and extremely persuasive with comments from previous users, sometimes celebrities, in the forms of well-written testimonials. Information on their composition and pharmacology is very sketchy and is often not provided. It is a serious question what these products really are.

There is no clinical evidence that any food or herbal supplement can achieve the benefits of the real HGH replacement therapy. There are some oral forms of Growth Hormone Releasing Hormone or its related peptides, which can indeed cause more release of HGH. However, the clinical use of these products are not well studied yet, and would equally have the same side effects profile as HGH, and so cannot be 100% safe to buy and take as the patients wish under no supervision.

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