The Side Effects of Human Growth Hormone as an Anti-Aging Therapy

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Taking human growth hormone (somatotropin) may actually accelerate the aging process.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Of all the anti-aging clinic scams, the selling and administration of human growth hormone has been called “perhaps the most blatant and organized form of quackery today.” It all started, promisingly enough, with a small trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in which twelve men over the age of 60 who got injections of growth hormone gained eight pounds of lean mass over a period of six months, compared to nine guys who weren’t injected. Newspapers around the world heralded the results. Anti-aging clinics popped up to offer the injections for $4,700 per month or more, and the popular press churned out books extolling the hormone’s age-reversing properties. After all, that’s how much muscle mass one might lose over 10 to 20 years of aging. That’s assuming, though, that what they gained was muscle.

The original study didn’t measure muscle strength or performance, but larger, longer, and better (i.e., placebo-controlled) studies subsequently did, and found zero benefit. A meta-analysis of studies of growth hormone for athletic performance found that it may even worsen exercise capacity. Wait, how can you gain pounds of lean mass, but not get any stronger? By retaining pounds of water. The lean mass was mostly just due to fluid retention. In fact, obvious swelling (soft tissue edema) is one of the most common side effects of growth hormone, affecting about half of recipients. Other side effects include joint aches, carpal tunnel syndrome, male breast development, elevated blood sugars, and new-onset diabetes.

All this with no evidence of anti-aging effects. If anything, growth hormone may actually accelerate the aging process. For example, those with acromegaly, a disease of excess growth hormone, suffer disproportionately from muscle weakness, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure, artery dysfunction, and bone loss.

In the 1980s, doctors and parents conspired to inject short kids with growth hormone to try to make them grow taller. What happened to them? A study following thousands of children who were injected decades ago with growth hormone for one reason or another found they had a 33 percent increased risk of being dead, largely from brain bleeds and tumors. The strokes would make sense from blood pressure elevation, and the malignancies from the growth hormone-induced rise of the cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF-1.

Twenty to thirty thousand people in the U.S. are estimated to use growth hormone in a vain attempt to combat aging, a practice referred to in a leading endocrinology journal as a “medical fraud of unprecedented proportions.” Given the adverse effects, maybe it’s good that all the tested samples of human growth hormone (also known as somatotropin) sourced from online pharmacies were found to have a fraction of the labelled amount (presumably due to degradation from improper storage), and the majority of samples confiscated in another study were counterfeit and contained none at all.

There’s also a proliferation of pills and nasal or sublingual spray forms that makes no biological sense, as the hormone is too large a protein to effectively cross membranes, and, if swallowed, is simply destroyed in the stomach. Given the risk of cancer and potential for a shortened lifespan, one prominent clinician remarked that maybe growth hormone is a “true anti-aging drug” in that it may prematurely stop you from growing any older.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Of all the anti-aging clinic scams, the selling and administration of human growth hormone has been called “perhaps the most blatant and organized form of quackery today.” It all started, promisingly enough, with a small trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in which twelve men over the age of 60 who got injections of growth hormone gained eight pounds of lean mass over a period of six months, compared to nine guys who weren’t injected. Newspapers around the world heralded the results. Anti-aging clinics popped up to offer the injections for $4,700 per month or more, and the popular press churned out books extolling the hormone’s age-reversing properties. After all, that’s how much muscle mass one might lose over 10 to 20 years of aging. That’s assuming, though, that what they gained was muscle.

The original study didn’t measure muscle strength or performance, but larger, longer, and better (i.e., placebo-controlled) studies subsequently did, and found zero benefit. A meta-analysis of studies of growth hormone for athletic performance found that it may even worsen exercise capacity. Wait, how can you gain pounds of lean mass, but not get any stronger? By retaining pounds of water. The lean mass was mostly just due to fluid retention. In fact, obvious swelling (soft tissue edema) is one of the most common side effects of growth hormone, affecting about half of recipients. Other side effects include joint aches, carpal tunnel syndrome, male breast development, elevated blood sugars, and new-onset diabetes.

All this with no evidence of anti-aging effects. If anything, growth hormone may actually accelerate the aging process. For example, those with acromegaly, a disease of excess growth hormone, suffer disproportionately from muscle weakness, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure, artery dysfunction, and bone loss.

In the 1980s, doctors and parents conspired to inject short kids with growth hormone to try to make them grow taller. What happened to them? A study following thousands of children who were injected decades ago with growth hormone for one reason or another found they had a 33 percent increased risk of being dead, largely from brain bleeds and tumors. The strokes would make sense from blood pressure elevation, and the malignancies from the growth hormone-induced rise of the cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF-1.

Twenty to thirty thousand people in the U.S. are estimated to use growth hormone in a vain attempt to combat aging, a practice referred to in a leading endocrinology journal as a “medical fraud of unprecedented proportions.” Given the adverse effects, maybe it’s good that all the tested samples of human growth hormone (also known as somatotropin) sourced from online pharmacies were found to have a fraction of the labelled amount (presumably due to degradation from improper storage), and the majority of samples confiscated in another study were counterfeit and contained none at all.

There’s also a proliferation of pills and nasal or sublingual spray forms that makes no biological sense, as the hormone is too large a protein to effectively cross membranes, and, if swallowed, is simply destroyed in the stomach. Given the risk of cancer and potential for a shortened lifespan, one prominent clinician remarked that maybe growth hormone is a “true anti-aging drug” in that it may prematurely stop you from growing any older.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

If hormone injections don’t work, what does? That’s the topic of my new book, How Not to Age, and you can get your copy now from your local public library or wherever books are sold. If you haven’t seen them yet, check out the book trailer and my new presentation. (As always, all proceeds I receive from all of my books are donated to charity.)

What about taking supplements of the hormone DHEA? Stay tuned for my next video, DHEA: What Is It and What Are Its Benefits?

Some of my past popular videos on anti-aging include:

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