Does human growth hormone slow the aging process?

Dr. Jack Merendino, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
Human growth hormone (hGH) levels decline as we age. This may be contribute to some of the changes we experience with aging such as a reduction in muscle mass, strength and stamina. When older individuals are given hGH they may experience benefits, including an increase in muscle mass, a reduction in body fat, improved strength and increased resting energy metabolism. On the other hand, high levels of hGH increase the risk for arthritis, diabetes and certain kinds of heart disease. High levels of hCG also seem to increase the risk of certain cancers. All of these problems are seen in increased frequency in people with naturally-occuring excess growth hormone -- a condition we call acromegaly -- and they are all associated with increased age, not youth. Like any growth factor, giving hGH increases the frequency of cell division in certain cell types. For these cells, hGH actually accelerates the aging process. Therefore, giving hGH may have some clearly positive effects, and adults who have lower levels than the normal population may benefit, but it would not be at all correct to say that growth hormone slows the aging process.   
Leslie Bonci, MPH
Nutrition & Dietetics

Production of human growth hormone (HGH) production slows as we age, but it's possible to still reap the benefits of this crucial substance. In this video, sports nutrition specialist Leslie Bonci talks about to ensure you make as much HGH as possible, no matter your age.

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
The billion-dollar question is whether the administration of human growth hormone to older people with low growth hormone, or all people, makes a difference to the aging process. Even the elderly who have normal growth hormone levels still get old.

In 1990 a landmark study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It showed remarkable improvement in a dozen elderly men who were injected with growth hormone three times a week for six months. Their muscle mass and bone density increased and their fat decreased. The six months of hormones reduced aging by ten to twenty years.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002, human growth hormone with either testosterone in men or estrogen and progesterone in women was given for six months. The good news is that muscle increased and fat decreased, as would be expected with three exercise sessions a week. The bad news is that diabetes increased and participants had leg swelling, acne, weight gain, arthritis, muscle pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome from the hormone. Ten percent of men's breasts grew. The study concluded that growth hormone was not "ready for prime time." It is considered experimental until the complex interactions with other hormones and body systems are better understood. Still other studies with growth hormone have shown that breast and prostate cancers are more likely in people taking growth hormone.

W. Glenn Lyle, M.D., a Raleigh, North Carolina, plastic surgeon, has reviewed the growth hormone literature for the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation. He says that information supporting human growth hormone usually comes from non-peer-reviewed studies and is often found on websites and in lay books. He concluded that growth hormone replacement doesn't increase lifespan in animals or humans.
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Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine

Chinese Medicine and Anti-Aging Specialist Dr. Maoshing Ni explains whether or not human growth hormone slows the aging process. Watch Dr. Mao's video for tips and information on overall wellness and anti-aging.

Sharine Forbes
Geriatric Medicine

Growth hormone (GH) directly influences processes on the liver, adipose tissue and muscles through which many of the actions are regulating by insulin like growth factors  (IGF’s).  Growth hormone has strong effects on adipose tissue so the presence of GH changes the regulation of protein synthesis, lipid turn over and lipid storage and indirect effects on how glucose is stored and released into the blood stream. GH has the best corollaries in being a modulator of longevity as well as having the ability to survive and adapt in old age. Scientific data evidences that GH (growth hormone) and IGF-1 can act as modulators of aging and age-related diseases as the levels of GH reduce with age causing a decrease in how effectively cells respond to IGF-1.  Evidence supports that GH is produced in large numbers during the youth of an individual’s lifespan. However, as a person ages the levels of GH tend to greatly diminish causing for a body to “age” as the overall health levels decline because there is a reduction in bone density and muscle strength. Additionally there is an increase in overall body fat which can lead to lower levels of energy. 

When Juan Ponce de Leon climbed aboard a ship and set sail off the coast of Spain in the 1500s, he was on a mission to find the Fountain of Youth. He was not successful. Instead, he landed in Florida, where in time he was killed with the points of arrows shot by enraged Native Americans. Not exactly the eternal youth he'd sought.

But just because Ponce de Leon did not succeed in locating the Fountain of Youth doesn't mean we've stopped looking for it. In fact, the quest for everlasting youth is unchanging. More than 500 years later, we're still attempting to turn back our bodies' clocks. We infuse our faces with poison, get fat suctioned out, ingest vitamin supplements-anything to eradicate the signs of aging and stick out our tongues at the Grim Reaper.

In fact, nowadays there are a number of people who think they've found youth's fountain-a hormone that aids you in weight loss, diminishes wrinkles, lowers blood pressure, increases muscle mass, raises energy and truly reverses the aging process. It sounds like a dream come true, but it's in fact something our bodies produce naturally-human growth hormone (HGH).

HGH is a hormone manufactured by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland makes different hormones, and each affect a particular portion of the body. The human growth hormone is linked to muscles and bones, and the pituitary gland makes the most HGH during puberty. HGH is critical for normal growth. For example, if a child's body creates too little HGH, the child may wind up being very short in stature. Conversely, if a child's body produces too much HGH, he or she may experience excessive bone growth and become unusually tall. Both situations may result in medical problems.

Even after we mature, our bodies continue to make HGH. It plays a crucial role in regulating our metabolism. We manufacture it as we sleep, which is part of the reason why getting adequate sleep is so significant for our health. Production of HGH begins to decline substantially around age 30 and slows increasingly as we advance in age.

HGH is the source of our youth, vitality and strength. When its presence declines, well, we get old. Proponents of HGH believe that it can reverse the aging process, but this position is not without controversy.

Continue Learning about Endocrine System

Endocrine System

Your endocrine system works with your nervous system to control important bodily functions. The endocrine systems responsibilities include regulating growth, sexual development and function, metabolism and mood. The endocrine syst...

em also helps give your body the energy it needs to function properly. Endocrine glands secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones are considered chemical messengers, coordinating your body by transferring information from one set of cells to another. Your endocrine system health can be affected by hormone imbalances resulting from impaired glands. A hormone imbalance can cause problems with bodily growth, sexual development, metabolism and other bodily functions. Endocrine system diseases or conditions include diabetes, growth disorders and osteoporosis.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.