HGH Therapy for Men
HGH therapy for men involves one of the most talked about supplements on the market today. Human growth hormone (HGH) is a substance that is associated with anti-aging claims as well as a debate about whether the potential benefits are worth the risks. Yet the anti-aging lure sends men and women in search of which HGH pills are best, if it is better to take HGH injections, and where they can buy HGH. The most important questions to ask, however, are “What is human growth hormone?” and “How can I separate HGH facts from HGH hype?”
Human growth hormone, also referred to as growth hormone, is produced by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain. It works by stimulating the growth of cells, tissues, and organs, and for this reason it is used to treat stunted growth in children. Human growth hormone also assists in the maintenance of organs and tissues throughout life.
As people age, the pituitary’s production of HGH decreases naturally. At 20, individuals produce twice as much HGH as they will when they are 40, and the levels drop by about 15% per decade thereafter. The accompanying decline in HGH levels has prompted some people, including healthcare providers, to believe HGH supplementation is a way to fight the signs and symptoms of aging.
HGH stimulates the liver to increase its production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), a factor that declines naturally in the bloodstream as people age. Thus, taking HGH injections can lead to a rise in IGF-1 levels. This rise may have a negative impact, as some research indicates elevated IGF-1 levels are strongly associated with major risks of prostate, colon, and breast cancers (see “HGH Therapy for Men and Cancer”). In addition, IGF-1 blocks the ability of cancer cells to self-destruct.
Who Should Take HGH
A biosynthetic HGH was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985 and is available as a prescription via injection. The only FDA approved uses of injectable HGH are for HGH deficiency in children and disorders that inhibit growth, such as Turner’s syndrome (a genetic condition in females) and Prader-Willi syndrome (a congenital genetic disorder), as well as chronic renal deficiency and muscle wasting associated with HIV/AIDS. In adults, the only approved use of HGH injections is for true HGH deficiency.
Some physicians, including those associated with the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), promote the use of injectable HGH therapy for adults with HGH deficiency. Growth hormone deficiency in adults is rare and can be caused by a pituitary tumor or hypopituitarism (low functioning pituitary). HGH deficiency is characterized by increased weight and body fat, decreased lean body mass, reduced exercise capacity, decline in muscle mass and strength, reduced cardiac performance, reduced bone density, sleep problems, impaired sense of well being, unhealthy changes to cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and an increased fracture rate.
This list of HGH deficiency characteristics includes factors people typically associate with aging, which is why HGH therapy for men and women is popular among some aging individuals. However, not all healthcare providers or medical experts agree HGH therapy should be used as an anti-aging antidote.
For example, according to Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, when it comes to adults, there is “no legitimate use for HGH” beyond treatment for people who have developed a pituitary deficiency. He states “there is no evidence to suggest that injections of growth hormone in otherwise healthy adults will extend life or improve general health.” Weil’s comments are supported by research (below), although he admits some studies show HGH supplements do offer some benefits.
HGH Therapy for Men and HGH Deficiency
To identify an HGH deficiency, endocrinologists take blood tests and administer a growth hormone stimulation test. In this test, patients are given an intravenous solution of insulin or arginine. Blood samples are then taken at intervals to measure growth hormone levels to see if the pituitary gland was stimulated to produce expected hormone levels. Doctors sometimes also administer anIGF-1 test, because IGF-1 mirrors deficiencies of growth hormone. Unlike HGH, however, its level remains stable throughout the day, so it is a helpful indicator of average growth hormone levels.
Human Growth Hormone Levels
A general guideline for normal HGH levels in men is as follows:
- Less than 5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) or less than 220 picomoles per liter (pmol/L)
- Ranges can vary from lab to lab, and physicians determin a man’s optimal level based on the patient’s health, age, and other factors.
- Several factors can impact HGH test results, including use of medications (e.g., amphetamines, corticosteroids, estrogens, insulin), low blood pressure, obesity, and use of the herb St. John’s wort.
- Tell your healthcare provider about any medications and supplements you are taking.
Whether you are diagnosed as being HGH deficient largely depends on how broadly your physician chooses to define “deficiency.” The FDA allows healthcare providers considerable room for interpretation. Doctors who believe HGH is an effective anti-aging supplement are more likely to interpret a lower HGH level as a deficiency than doctors who more strictly interpret test results.
Finally, for those looking for HGH therapy for men with a more natural approach, Dr. Geo Espinosa, ND, Lac, CNS, RH (AHG), director of the Integrative Urological Center at New York University Langone Medical Center, offers this advice. “The best natural method to increase HGH is by getting deep sleep and by vigorous exercise. While HGH injection by a qualified health care practitioner can be helpful in deficient older adults, there is no proof that dietary supplements can increase HGH levels.”
Benefits of HGH Therapy for Men
The potential benefits of HGH therapy for men (and women) shown in scientific studies include increased muscle mass and some reduction in body fat. These benefits need to be qualified, however. In a 2011 Australian study, for example, the authors stated that “In healthy adults, GH [growth hormone] increases lean body mass, although it is possible that fluid retention contributes to this effect.” The authors also pointed out that “the most recent data indicate that GH does not enhance muscle strength, power, or aerobic exercise capacity,” but that it does improve anaerobic exercise capacity.
The benefits of HGH therapy for men were also questioned in a meta-analysis of 44 articles involving 303 participants. The reviewers found that “claims that growth hormone enhances physical performance are not supported by the scientific literature.” They also noted that “although the limited available evidence suggests that growth hormone increases lean body mass, it may not improve strength; in addition, it may worsen exercise capacity and increase adverse events.”
Can HGH supplements or injections help with weight loss or reducing body fat? The first study to make this claim was in 1990, when the authors of a New England Journal of Medicine article noted that synthetic injectable HGH resulted in an 8.8% gain in muscle mass and a 14% reduction in body fat without any change in exercise or diet. Even though the study included only 12 men, ages 61 to 81, and involved taking high doses of HGH for six months, the findings set off a surge of interest in HGH by the pharmaceutical industry and people looking for the ultimate anti-aging supplement. When subsequent studies could not duplicate the 1990 findings, the New England Journal of Medicine denounced misuse of the study in 2003.
Yet according to the A4M, there is “a wealth of peer review research in the medical literature” that shows HGH injections (by prescription only) improve “muscle strength and mobility, cognitive function, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, immune function, body composition, obesity and sarcopenia, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, other illnesses, and quality of life issues.” The case for taking HGH supplements clearly has two camps.
Side Effects of HGH Therapy for Men
Side effects of HGH therapy for men may include carpal tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure, joint pain, muscle pain, and swelling of the arms and legs. Men may experience enlarged breast tissue (gynecomastia). The severity of side effects may be greater in older adults than in younger ones. Some research suggests HGH may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and early death. A 2011 study warned that long-term excessive use of growth hormone, a habit practiced by some athletes, can result in a state that mimics acromegaly, a disorder characterized by joint swelling, skin thickening, bone enlargement, and tissue growth.
HGH therapy for men also raises another concern. A growing body of research indicates the possibility of an increased risk of the disease with exposure to HGH.
HGH Therapy for Men and Cancer
HGH therapy for men may be associated with cancer. In a 2012 report from the Endocrine, Polypeptide and Cancer Institute in Miami, researchers found evidence that growth hormone-release hormone is a promoting growth factor in prostate cancer, and they suggested development of therapies that prohibit GHRH to help fight castration resistant prostate cancer.
In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Andrology, research revealed that HGH can trigger activity that stimulates proliferation of prostate cancer cells. Randy Horwitz, MD, PhD, medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, has warned about the use of HGH as an anti-aging strategy, noting a possible increased risk of prostate cancer and pointing out that no studies have examined the long-term effects of HGH in older adults.
In fact, some doctors are worried that HGH could easily fuel any type of malignancy. This concern has led some doctors, including endocrinologists, to not encourage use of HGH injections in people older than 50, who are most susceptible to tumor growth.
Injectable HGH and HGH Supplements
Injectable HGH is available only with a doctor’s prescription, which should be given only after an established diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency. Advertised HGH supplements, whether they are in pill, spray, or powder form, are unlikely to have efficacy. According to Nicholas Tritos, MD, who co-authored an evaluation of the use of HGH for weight loss in obese individuals, only injectable HGH is effective.
Tritos noted in a WebMD article that “HGH is a protein that will get broken down in the stomach unless it is injected. And besides, any drug not tested or approved by FDA is risky because it is unknown and not necessarily safe, pure, sterile, or what is being advertised.”
Members of the A4M caution against use of any other type of HGH except injectable. They warn that “Only pharmaceutical-grade, physician-dispensed, injectable HGH is of benefit to patients with clinically defined GH [growth hormone] deficiency disorders,” and that “there is a world of difference between physician-dispensed, prescription HGH and the concoctions offered by spray and nutritional HGH marketers.”
Samuel Epstein, MD, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition concurs. He has noted there are “growing concerns of possible risks” from the use of HGH supplements. However, Epstein also pointed out that “HGH absorption from the mouth and gut is unlikely to be significant.”
If you have been in the market for HGH supplements, you may have heard about HGH releasers. According to Dr. Horwitz, HGH releasers, which are claimed to prompt the body to release HGH from the pituitary gland, are “unsubstantiated. I know of no studies demonstrating that they work as advertised.”
HGH therapy for men to fight aging, lose weight, or improve muscle mass has a price tag that might put a few years on you: about $1,000 or more per month for injections, plus the possibility of side effects. Before starting any type of HGH therapy for men, have a serious discussion with your healthcare provider and ask yourself whether the possible benefits are worth the risks.
References for HGH Therapy for Men
American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine press release: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2006/03/prweb353660.htm
Bidosee M et al. Growth hormone affects gene expression and proliferation in human prostate cancer cells. Int J Androl 2011 Apr; 34(2): 124-37
Birzniece V et al. Growth hormone and physical performance. Trends Endocrinol Metab 2011 May; 22(5): 171-78
Cancer Prevention Coalition: http://www.preventcancer.com/avoidable/breast_cancer/hgh_risks.htm
Liu H et al. Systematic review: the effects of growth hormone on athletic performance. Ann Intern Med 2008 May 20; 148(10): 747-58
Rick FG et al. Antagonists of growth hormone-releasing hormone inhibit growth of androgen-independent prostate cancer through inactivation of ERK and Akt kinases. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012 Jan 31; 109(5): 1655-60
Rudman D et al. Effects of human growth hormone in men over 60 years old. N Eng J Med 1990; 323:1-6
Vance ML. Can growth hormone prevent aging? N Eng J Med 2003; 348:779-80
Weil, Andrew. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA400150
Zeman N. Hollywood’s vial bodies. Vanity Fair 2012 March