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.   

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.

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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.