As long as people continue to age, they will continue to search for the fountain of youth. For some, that mythical fountain seems to be found in human growth hormone, or HGH. But scientists cannot seem to agree on whether HGH is really effective at slowing the aging process or if the hazards of HGH use outweigh the possible benefits.
What is HGH?
Human growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland which is a tiny gland located in the brain. This gland produces a variety of hormones which are chemicals that control functions in the body such as metabolism and growth. In young children, human growth hormone regulates growth by controlling the development of the skeleton and muscles. After puberty, HGH continues to affect the amount of muscle and fat the body produces.
As part of the normal aging process, the body gradually loses muscle mass, which means the body also loses strength. Some researchers believe it could be possible to slow or even stop this progressive muscle weakening by supplementing human growth hormone in elderly patients.
Some studies consider the benefits of supplementing HGH in elderly patients by looking at levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This is a protein hormone that is similar to insulin. Production of IGF-1 is regulated by growth hormone. As a natural part of the aging process, both HGH and IGF-1 levels decrease over time. Researchers suggested that boosting HGH levels could result in increases in IGF-1 levels and slow the aging process. However, further studies revealed that higher levels of IGF-1 in elderly men are also associated with increased risk of cancer-related deaths. At the same time, there is little evidence to show that increasing HGH slows aging. While some patients show increased lean muscle mass, their strength did not increase proportionately which lead some researchers to believe the increase in mass was due to fluid retention in the tissues rather than an actual increase in muscle.
Regardless of any test results, many people have jumped on the growth hormone band-wagon. Numerous products are available claiming that HGH can stop aging or slow the aging process in elderly patients. The reality is that most of these supplements are unproven. Research has shown that human growth hormone does not survive the digestive process. So pills or oral supplements claiming to be HGH are not effective. Other supplements claiming to boost production of growth hormone in the body are unregulated and may contain ingredients or impurities that can be harmful to the body.
Legally, human growth hormone is available only by prescription as an injection and can only be prescribed to patients who have tested as deficient in natural HGH. Even if these injections were generally available, they are prohibitively expensive for most people. In addition, the side effects of HGH use include swelling and water retention in the tissues, joint and bone pain, and increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The bottom line is that while growth hormone supplements can be effective and even necessary for patients who are deficient in the hormone, HGH has not been proven as an effective way to slow or stop the aging process and is not recognized by scientists as a functional fountain of youth.