Our body is growing all the time. As children our body grows into an adult. As adults, any damaged tissues need to be replaced with new tissues and this requires growth hormone. In this article, we shall take a detailed look at the human growth hormone (HGH), discussing its main actions, side-effects and effects on both men and women.
The human growth hormone facts
Growth hormone is a hormone that is produced by a small gland in the brain called the pituitary gland.
It is also called somatotropin and more specifically is released by the front or anterior aspect of the pituitary gland. From a biochemical perspective, growth hormone is a protein that contains 191 amino acids in its structure.
From birth, the pituitary gland constantly secretes growth hormone that helps muscles, organs and tissues in the body of a child to mature into that of an adult over a number of years. As adulthood is reached, the amount of HGH that is released is reduced. This is when tissues start to become older and the aging process commences.
In the body, growth hormone is released in small pulses at a time. The anterior pituitary responds to certain signals that are released by the hypothalamus in the brain that stimulates it to release the hormone. Growth hormone levels vary throughout the day and are found to be at their highest just before a person goes to sleep. Most of the growth hormone secretion in the body occurs during sleep.
The release of growth hormone is under the influence of a number of external factors. This includes age, dietary habits, sex of the individual and underlying stress levels.
The release of this hormone is a lot higher in adolescence but decreases as the individual reaches adulthood.
In the recent years, human growth hormone has become fairly popular as an anti ageing treatment. However, this fact has been subject to constant controversy, with many experts suggesting no action whatsoever of synthetic HGH in slowing down the ageing process.
Nevertheless, synthetic human growth hormone is still in production and continues to be used as a part of a number of prescription drugs. But the use of HGH does not end there. Athletes have utilised this drug as an anabolic compound helping them improve their performance and energy levels on the field. However, its use is now banned.
Is HGH legal and FDA approved?
The use of synthetic HGH in a number of different areas of life has now come to light. However, this does not necessarily mean that their use is legal. As such, the use of HGH upon prescription by a registered (licensed) doctor for an approved indication is entirely legal. We have already mentioned how the use of synthetic HGH in athletes is against the set guidelines and can result in them losing their position at a competition.
Prior to prescribing HGH, patients often required certain tests which can be performed by their treating doctor. The use of HGH is approved in certain clinical conditions that include –
The use of HGH in the above clinical conditions is approved by the FDA. However, there are certain situations where it is used that are not approved by the FDA. This includes its use as an anabolic compound (performance enhancing) and an anti aging treatment. But this does not mean that it cannot be used as it is still prescribed as an off label indication of its use in certain specialty clinics such as anti aging clinics.
In the United States, possession of HGH without a valid doctor’s prescription is illegal. However, there are a number of Internet pharmacies that now ship this product across the patients or individuals who wish to obtain it. Once again, this is against the law and should not be done. Furthermore, one never really knows what the contents of these drugs that are obtained online.
They may contain harmful chemicals in them and can be detrimental to an individual’s health and well-being.
In addition, if one were to carry these drugs from a foreign country into the United States, they will be stopped by authorities and could face prosecution for carrying a controlled substance.
- Long-term kidney disease
- Deficiency (low levels or absence) of HGH from birth
- Clinical syndromes such as Turner’s syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome
- Short bowel syndrome – this is a clinical condition where there is severe bowel disease and as a result, essential nutrients are not absorbed into the body.
- Pituitary tumours that result in low amount of HGH secretion
- HIV illness that results in severe muscle wasting.
Is growth hormone safe? What are the side-effects?
The use of HGH as a prescription drug is relatively safe. However, its effects as an off label prescription are unknown. Certain side-effects have been reported that include –
- Accumulation of fluid in the body tissues (called oedema)
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Pain in the joints, muscles and nerves
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Higher risk of diabetes
- Formation of and growth of tumours
- Tingling of the skin
- Breast enlargement in men (called gynaecomastia)
How is HGH available?
HGH is available in the form of a pill, though many consider this a tablet that facilitates the release of HGH. This type of pill is called a HGH releaser.
As a prescription, HGH is offered in an injectable form that is injected into the tissue is just underneath the skin such as the muscle. Care should be taken not to inject a blood vessel.
There are three different types of HGH injections that are currently available. These include-
The side-effects that are seen with HGH injections are similar to those described above. Water tension i.e. oedema is probably one of the most common side-effects. Diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome are other side-effects that have been described.
Another important fact to bear in mind when it comes to HGH injections is the cost. Depending on why the drug is prescribed or for what off label reason it is taken, the costs can vary and can go all the way into thousands of dollars annually. It is therefore essential to be cautious of one’s expenditure.
- Humatrope – This is a recombinant form of the human growth which is similar to the natural form that is produced in the body.
- Jintropin – This prescription growth hormone is often used by doctors to help children who are struggling with growth due to an underlying condition.
- Serostim – this particular prescription drug is often given to patients with underlying AIDS who have severe muscle mass loss.
How is HGH different from steroids?
In a nutshell, both of these compounds are structurally very different. While there effects may overlap to an extent, the side-effects that are associated with steroids can also be rather worrying.
For example, long-term use of steroids can result in weakness of the bones and a condition called osteoporosis. They can also result in testicular atrophy, meaning the structure and function of the testes can be reduced remarkably. The use of steroids is also banned in the athletic world.
There is no clear way to state whether HGH is better than steroids or vice versa. The muscle enlargement and increase in bulk that is seen with HGH use is not associated with an increase in strength. On the contrary, it may be associated with excessive and easy muscle fatigability. Steroids on the other hand can increase muscle strength and overall performance.
The effects of HGH on men and women
In men, HGH believed to reduce fat, improve healing of injured tissues and enhance performance. However, a number of these positive effects bring with it a number of negative effects as well, as has been previously described. Fluid retention can be a troublesome side-effect.
In addition, the use of HGH in men can worsen clinical conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea. This is a condition where the patient breathing is constantly disturbed at night due to narrowing of the airways when they are asleep.
The accumulation of fluid around the neck can result in further narrowing of the airways causing breathing to become more difficult.
In women, the use of HGH can produce similar effects to what has been described in the previous paragraph. Patients continue to experience bloating and fluid retention, and many of them (especially middle aged women) can even develop diabetes.
Does HGH really work?
The simple answer is yes. It use as a prescription drug has been well established and proven in a number of scientific studies. It can promote muscle healing and enhance growth in children who have low levels. The effects of HGH are on various systems of the body, and the actual need has to be assessed by physicians before using it.
It’s off label applications also seem to be useful, particularly as an anti-ageing medication and performance enhancing drug. However, one needs to be cautious of the side effects, along with the legal and professional implications of purchasing this without the right guidance.
HGH vs. HGH releasers
Most of the HGH pills that are available are in fact HGH releasers. HGH releasers are products that stimulate the release of HGH from the pituitary gland rather than increase the levels directly.
They are available in synthetic form or as a natural product. Natural HGH releasers include arginine, lysine, glutamine and melatonin, to mention a few.
Some people prefer to use HGH releasers as the growth hormone that is produced is natural. The side effects are a few and are similar to the ones that are seen with HGH.
However, these side effects are often seen with just synthetic HGH releasers rather than the ones that are naturally available. Generally speaking, people who have used HGH releasers have had good results.
In the recent years, a number of different concerns have risen regarding the use of HGH supplementation. Below is a brief list.
HGH and Mad Cow Disease
In 2002, the Lancet journal reported the development of mad cow disease (called Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease) in individuals who had taken HGH supplements. This is because the product had been derived from pituitary glands of cadavers and sufficient tests had not been performed. Synthetic HGH does not have this effect and this currently does not seem to be a concern when the drug is bought through proper channels.
HGH and Cancer
Another concern that has been raised is the development of cancer following the use of HGH. Whether the link has been established with older forms of HGH, it is worthwhile knowing that cancers such as colon cancer and Hodgkin’s disease have been reported.
However, the numbers of reports are only a few making it difficult to draw concrete conclusions. The rise in incidence of colon cancer is considered to be related to the increased secretion of insulin like growth factor -1, also called IGF-I.
HGH and weight loss
Certain concerns have been raised regarding weight loss in patients who use HGH. This weight loss is often related to a loss in muscle mass but can sometimes be compensated by the accumulation of fluid in the body. The loss of muscle mass can be detrimental to a patient as it can reduce the overall strength and energy levels. It is important to keep an eye out for this as interventions may be required.
While the above have been reported as side-effects, there also have been a number of different reports where HGH use has resulted in an enhanced body composition with increased muscle mass and reduction in body fat. The latter effect is usually fairly small. Such an effect has obviously sparked interest for its use in obese patients but so far the results have not been promising, implying that HGH does not necessarily induce sufficient weight loss in obese individuals.
HGH and Height
Some individuals take HGH in order to increase their overall height. While the effects may be useful and visible in children, it may not necessarily be the case in adults.
Furthermore, one must be aware of the side-effects that are associated with HGH use in adulthood.
Human growth hormone releaser is a popular supplement on the market. It should be used on prescription by a physician and its use must be monitored on a regular basis. While it does have a number of beneficial effects, it also has a number of different side-effects and concerns. Legal implications should also be borne in mind when attempting to purchase the product or when carrying the product around. There are a number of different off label uses but once again it is essential to get a physician’s advice and prescription for these.
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