Aug 27, 2009
I’ve been getting a lot of posts recently about using Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for weight loss, and decided it was about time I explained my position. Basically, I don’t recommend it. Why not? For those of you less familiar, let’s break it down.
1) What is HGH? Human Growth Hormone is a hormone normally produced by the brain’s pituitary gland. Its purpose is to stimulate growth and cell reproduction. For this reason, levels are higher in adolescence, and peak during your twenties. By the time you hit your forties, levels are in a decline.
2) How is HGH administered? Because it is a large molecule, it has to be injected, either subcutaneously (like insulin) or directly into the muscle. It is usually given once a week.
3) Who gets HGH? Generally, people deficient in HGH (usually kids, sometimes adults), people with short stature, and people who may be undergoing organ transplantation or who have muscle wasting conditions like advanced HIV.
So why are people requesting HGH for weight loss? While there is a lot of controversy around it, there are some small studies that indicate that HGH administration can be associated with changes in body composition (i.e. less fat, more muscle). But these changes aren’t terribly significant – just a few pounds in either direction. Interestingly, these studies suggest that there’s not a significant improvement in fitness or muscle strength, leading some people to believe that HGH just results in more water being stored in muscles. But this hasn’t stopped some athletes from using it, despite the absence of good data to suggest that it significantly improves performance.
So why don’t I recommend it? First of all, it’s poorly regulated. HGH straddles the line between “supplement” and “medication,” and many people will search for it online, without having confidence that what they are receiving is sterile, pure, or uncontaminated. Second, medications like this really do need to be given under a reasonable doctor’s care. I stress the word “reasonable.” Remember, just because a doctor is prescribing something doesn’t mean that it’s medically appropriate or the doctor has enough experience to prescribe it safely. Recent news about potent anesthetics being prescribed to Michael Jackson brings this point to light. And finally? Side effects. Because HGH has not been well studied in the longer term in healthy individuals without deficiency or other medical indications, we just don’t know what will happen if you take it. There are reports of increased risk of diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, joint problems, and possibly heart disease.
In the end, HGH – like many supplements – is being used by people as a substitute for making lifestyle changes. You can argue that doctors do this all the time. We place people on blood pressure medications and cholesterol medicine when the combination of diet and exercise just doesn’t cut it. But we also have data that shows that reducing blood pressure and cholesterol with drugs actually reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes and makes people live longer. HGH? Not so much. Until further studies are done, I recommend that you get your HGH the old-fashioned way – it turns out that exercise and sleep stimulate higher levels…and are also associated with weight loss.