Is HGH (Human Growth Hormone) an anti-aging miracle?

hormoneIt sounds like the fountain of youth. It builds muscle and takes off extra pounds. And that’s just the beginning. How about increased energy level, fewer wrinkles and more hair? These are just some of the claims made on behalf of the newest anti-aging miracle supplements, the Human Growth Hormone Releasers. But don’t go investing in baby clothes just yet.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH), or somatotropin, is made naturally by our bodies. The pituitary gland, an organ located at the base of the brain, secretes this hormone in bursts, with the greatest amounts released while you sleep. So why even consider raising blood levels artificially if the body makes the stuff? Because as we age, we make less and less of it. Any hormone we make less of as we age is of interest because of the alluring possibility that certain aspects of aging may be related to declining blood levels of the substance. Consequently, stemming the decline could have anti-aging effects. That is exactly the idea that occurred to Dr. Daniel Rudman at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

In 1990 Rudman injected 12 men ranging in age from 60 to 81 with HGH three times a week for six months. Injection is the only way to administer the hormone since it is a protein that would be broken down in the digestive tract if taken orally. The results were interesting. The men became more muscular and lost body fat when compared with a control group of nine men who received no treatment. Since it is hard to measure HGH levels in the body directly, the researchers actually measured the amount of another hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) which is made in the liver upon stimulation by HGH. Apparently IGF-1 is the active substance through which HGH carries out its work. IGF-1 levels did increase noticeably upon HGH injection. Rudman made no anti-aging claims and concluded that more research was warranted.

Subsequent research unfortunately dampened the initial enthusiasm about Human Growth Hormone. Kevin Yarasheski at The Washington University School of Medicine had to stop his 1993 trial on twelve subjects aged from 63 to 76 when half of them developed carpal tunnel compression, fluid retention and symptoms of arthritis within weeks of initiating treatment. Fortunately all symptoms were reversed within a short time after stopping the HGH injections.

Then something fascinating happened. The popular press got a hold of the growth hormone story and blew it out of proportion. Rudman’s data were interpreted to suggest that the molecular fountain of youth had been found. People began to clamor for a shot at bringing back their youth. And some doctors responded. Clinics in Nevada began to offer injections of HGH for outrageous prices. No one seemed interested in the possibility that growth hormone could also stimulate the growth of tumors. In laboratory experiments it can. No one seemed interested in knowing that while HGH seemed to increase muscle mass, there was no evidence that it actually improved muscle strength.

The weight loss people also got into the game claiming that HGH injections would allow people to slim down. Rudman’s study did show some fat loss and there is some evidence that HGH can help mobilize fat stores. It also seems that obese people secrete less HGH, but this could also be the result of obesity rather than a cause of it. There are actually no studies in the literature that would support effective weight loss via HGH.

Don’t get the impression, though, that Human Growth Hormone is a useless substance. It has been effectively used to treat children with stunted growth. Today, a genetically engineered version of the hormone is used. In the days before the advent of this recombinant form of HGH, doctors used to give children growth hormone from cows, sheep and human cadavers. This proved to be quite dangerous as a small percent of the treated children developed the human form of mad cow disease (called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). Doses of the hormone have to be carefully monitored because too much growth hormone can be harmful. Indeed, sometimes the body itself produces too much hormone as a result of pituitary abnormalities. This can cause gigantism, or if excess secretion starts only in adulthood, a condition called acromegaly, which is characterized by enlargement of the bones of the face, hands and feet. Diabetes-like symptoms are also possible.

Now we come to the current flurry of activity about the anti-aging effects of growth hormone. Since injections are not an ideal method of administering drugs, there has been a search for oral drugs that stimulate the body’s natural production of HGH. Attention has focussed on various blends of amino acids. Why these? Because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and HGH is a protein hormone. There is some evidence that certain combinations of amino acids can in fact stimulate growth hormone release. But that is a long way from justifying the claims being made on behalf of the “growth hormone releasers” being hyped on infomercials and on the Web.

Studies done on amino acid stimulation of HGH (and there aren’t many) include one in 1981 on lysine and arginine stimulation and one in 1995 on glutamine stimulation. The 1981 study showed that when lysine and arginine in combination were given orally to 15 male volunteers, there was an increase in HGH levels. The 1995 study claimed that when glutamine was given orally to 9 subjects, the level of HGH in the blood plasma also increased. Both of these studies are small and rather inconclusive given the difficulty of measuring HGH levels directly and the fact that levels show great individual variation. Basically, there is precious little evidence that HGH levels can be increased by oral amino acid intake, but that does not stop supplement promoters from making claims.

Longevity 4, a supplement containing arginine, glutamine, ornithine and glycine claims to lower body fat, increase skin thickness and enhance the activity of the immune system on top of building muscle and reducing fat. Are there any references to studies that show these effects really take place? No. When pushed, the promoters point to a smattering of small studies that show a slight increase in growth hormone when amino acids are consumed. None show that this increase has any practical significance.

Another widely advertised HGH releaser is GHR-15 (growth hormone releaser-15). Like other such products it contains a combination of different amino acids including arginine, lysine, glutamine, glycine, glutamate, tyrosine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GHR- 15 also contains a powdered form of the hypothalamus gland derived from sheep which according to its promoters further increases the HGH secretion levels. Again, no references are provided.

Where does all of this stuff about growth hormone releasers leave us? With anecdotes galore about lives turned around and visions of leaping tall buildings with a single bound. But what we are not left with is scientific evidence. And let’s remember that even if blood levels of growth hormone could be increased in the easy fashion claimed, the results may not always be desirable.

Altered facial features, diabetes-like symptoms, arthritis and inappropriate cell multiplication may not be what you’re after. But the hope of youth reclaimed reigns eternal. And maybe if you try the growth hormone releasers you’ll become muscular, skinny and youthfully energetic. But then again, maybe not.

One last word. A study published in Nature, a top scientific journal, found that mice with a growth hormone deficiency lived much longer than mice of normal size. The researchers also claim that small breeds of dogs and horses live longer than larger breeds. Maybe what we should be researching is growth hormone blocking drugs. Just a thought.

The cure for cancer then is obvious to the writer. Kill the parasites and avoid all products contaminated with solvents as well as all chemicals which weaken our organs. She has a formula for killing the parasites. A mixture of cloves, black walnut and wormwood destroys the intestinal flukes, as they are called, and therefore in her words, “can cure all cancers.” And of course the instrument just described, which Clark calls a “Syncrometer” will determine exactly which foods and other substances must be avoided to affect a cure.

If you want to know whether there is any aluminum in your brain, weakening it and therefore making it more susceptible to disease, the Syncrometer can tell you. According to the detailed instructions, just buy a piece of pork brain, place it on the device next to a piece of aluminum, attach the leads and listen for “resonance.” The pork brain, you see, guides the instrument where to look, and the piece of aluminum tells it what to look for. Similarly, you can use a piece of fish intestine to test for parasites in your colon.

How anyone can come up with such a bizarre concept boggles the rational mind. The story would be funny, if the possible consequences were not so sad. Hulda Clark actually uses her Syncrometer to diagnose cancer! She then goes on to cure people of a disease they never had. And then again, one wonders about many people resort to this nonsense at the expense of proven remedies. But anyone can publish anything. Such is the freedom of speech. We, as scientists, must also exercise our freedom and speak out against such absurdities.

Joe Schwarcz

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