Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Benefits, Uses, Side Effects

Human growth hormone, commonly referred as hGH is the key hormone largely responsible for growth and development as well as overall quality of life. Bodybuilders and athletes, use hGH off-label for it’s potential effect on building muscle mass and strength. But do the benefits, outweight the risks? We’re going to find out. 

Human growth hormone, or somatotropin, is an endogenous hormone produced by the pituitary gland, known as the “master-gland” since it’s the main hub and control center for many other hormones and glands. The pituitary gland, is a small pea-sized endocrine gland, located at the base of your brain below your hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus, found in the brain, sends signals to the pituitary gland to produce hGH which then travels through the bloodstream to perform various functions throughout the body.

hGH is produced from the anterior of frontal lobe of the pituitary gland.

The main role and responsibility of hGH is just that, human growth. During childhood hGH plays a critical role, specifically in the growth of bone and tissue. It helps maintain blood sugar, body structure, and metabolism. 

There are several factors such as nutrition and other endogenous hormones, that affect and control growth in addition to hGH. Other pituitary hormones, such as thyroid-stimulating hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone also affect growth.

The pituitary gland, releases hGH in a pulsatile manner, meaning in a pulsating fashion or in small bursts. hGH levels rise following exercise, sleep, or in times of trauma. The physiology of how hGH works is quite complex. hGh triggers the release of the insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) protein which promotes the utilization of fat (lipolysis), interferes with the action of insulin, and promotes the growth of muscle, bone, and other tissues.

Insufficient levels of hGH, have been associated with metabolic disease, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

hGH is available as a prescription drug and administered by intramuscular injection. GH is indicated for children that have deficiencies, or those with very short stature. GH is also used off-label by the bodybuilding community and biohackers, as a designer drug, to improve body composition and aesthetics. There are however, several side effects that accompany GH injections, which we will further explore below.

One of the many benefits of human growth hormone, is better body composition. As you age, hormonal levels decline. This leads, to a decrease in protein synthesis, also known as anabolic resistance fat accumulation, and muscle loss. New studies have shown that despite the traditional indication of benefiting growth in children, human growth hormone, can help in the aging process.

In several studies, recombinant human GH (rhGH)  periods varying from a few weeks to 6 months has resulted in improvements in nitrogen balance, an increase in lean body mass, and a decrease in percent body fat in older persons with low IGF-I levels [R, R].

One of the major benefits and indications of human growth hormone, is the ability to help induce greater changes in bone density, as well as lean muscle and tissue growth.

Although hGH triggers growth, is does so in nearly every body tissue including your organs. This is one of the main reasons why hGH administration for adults is controversial.

However, studies have shown that therapeutic doses administered to adults with muscle loss can benefit from growth hormone replacement therapy.

A systematic review, of the effects of growth hormone on athletic performance, published and curated by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), analyzed 44 randomized controlled trials. After receiving daily injections for an average of 20 days, subjects who received growth hormone increased lean body mass by 4.6 pounds.

However, strength and exercise capacity did not improve with hGh injections [R]. Subjects were more likely to retain fluid than increase lean muscle mass through hypertrophy [R].

Thus, hGH can improve overall lean tissue and muscle, however studies have shown it does not improve athletic performance.

Human growth hormone administration and use does come with several side effects. Safety and efficacy studies have shown that use of hGH can cuuse fluid retention, joint pain, breast enlargement, and carpal tunnel syndrome [R].

Well controlled studies show that there an undesirable amount of side effects as compared to benefits when using hGH. Increased evidence links the use of hGH with pronounced rates of cancer, and other age-related disease [R].

Perhaps the biggest concern with off-label use is the enlargement of internal organs. hGH causes not just muscle and bone to grow, but everything to grow. This can cause swelling, joint pain, gynecomastia, as well as increased insulin resistance. 

hGH is a powerful hormone, that is necessary for growth and healthy maintenance of hormonal health. However, synthetic hGH and off-label use, can cause several severe side effects. The best means to better body composition, is through a healthy nutrition protocol and training program. hGH could be very beneficial in older populations to help with aging process, however according to recent literature, the side effects far outweigh the benefits.


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