A Little Background

As most of you probably guessed, today's fountain of youth (and perhaps what Ponce was looking for) is growth hormone. Human Growth Hormone (hGH or GH), is one of several endocrine hormones. "Endocrine" means that the hormone is produced in one place (in this case, the anterior pituitary), but its action occurs elsewhere (throughout the body). Some of the other endocrine hormones are estrogen, progesterone, Testosterone and DHEA.

GH is also known as somatotropin. It's made up of 191 amino acids (a polypeptide) and its release can be stimulated by growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH). In other words, the anterior pituitary will release GH if GHRH is secreted from the hypothalamus. Increase GHRH and you'll increase GH. You'd expect that if you administered exogenous GHRH, the body would respond by overproduction of GH, but sorry, it doesn't. So forget trying to use GHRH in this manner.

The natural overproduction of GH results in acromegaly (think Andre the Giant), while underproduction results in dwarfism (think Hank, the Angry Dwarf).

How are "normal" GH levels determined?

Normally, the body produces about 500 micrograms of GH daily from a total of six to eight pulse secretions. This "normal" number decreases as we age. GH levels decline by about 14% per decade after the age of 30. Obviously, the time period in our lives when our GH levels are at their peaks is during the adolescent years.

Doctors can normally determine if your body is producing enough GH by a few different means. The most utilized test for GH – the gold standard – is the insulin tolerance test (ITT). Other reliable tests include employing arginine infusions (500 mg/kg infused over a 30-minute period), oral L-dopa (500 mg for an adult), clonidine (4 mcg/kg orally), or even sleep or twenty minutes of vigorous exercise. Depending on the test employed, the determination of your GH level can be at the twenty-minute mark or as much as 120 minutes after you started the test.

If you have any of these tests done and your GH is determined to be less than 10 nanograms per deciliter (<10 ng/dl), you're more than likely GH deficient. Currently, the FDA has approved GH for Adult GH Deficiency. Therefore, it's legal and ethical for a physician to prescribe GH therapy. For methods of testing your GH at home, see the article Hormone Testing at Home published a while back in T-mag.

As an aside, several medications are known to increase GH levels. Most of these medications are neuroendocrine (by extension used in psychiatry). These medications include Zolmitriptan, Clonidine, Apomorphine, Baclofen, Bromocriptine, Pergolide mesylate, L-692,429 and L-163,255 (compounds in development by Merck), ghrelin (a developmental drug) and other dopamine and GABA agonists. Please note that the duration of elevated GH from any of these medications isn't yet defined.

Why do athletes use GH?

The short answer is because they can. However, the real question should be, is it beneficial for the athlete to take GH? Besides wanting to look like Arnold, the answer is yes. And in fact, that benefit stretches all the way to those people who are looking to lose weight and cut body fat.

Most high-level bodybuilders use GH in order to gain muscle, which is a mistake. While it's true that GH enhances protein synthesis rates (as does exercise and the ingestion of amino acids), it doesn't directly translate into new muscle growth. Unfortunately, bodybuilders hear about the increased protein synthesis and think that it means an easy path to larger muscles. It's interesting to note that the greatest abundance of GH receptors is along the intestinal tract. So, it's not surprising that most GH-using pro-bodybuilders look pregnant!

Medically, GH is used for people with intestinal disorders such as short bowel syndrome. The incorporation of GH into their therapy aids in absorption of protein and other nutrients in order to sustain life, much different than that bloated guy onstage doing his best not to lay tracks while going through a posing routine.

What about GH as an "Anti-Aging" medicine?

Those who sell GH cite several reasons as to why GH levels decline as we age. For starters, while the body has a hormone that enhances the secretion of GH, it also has a counter-regulatory hormone known as somatostatin. It's thought that as we age (past the age of 40) somatostatin activity increases, thus GH production falls. So some anti-aging docs pharmaceutically look to alter somatostatin activity as a means to bolster GH levels back to those of the younger years.

Another thought is that GHRH (the releasing hormone) becomes less sensitive to signals from the hypothalamus, thus less GHRH is produced and even worse yet, your GH levels fall. Another theory is that the cell receptors for GH throughout the body become less responsive to GH and don't let it bind, so the GH never totally reaches its target tissue.

The proponents of GH therapy as an anti-aging medicine claim that they can help you gain muscle without exercising, improve sexual function, reduce wrinkles, enhance bone density, improve your memory, enhance wound healing time, bolster the immune system and improve heart function. Some people claim that GH can also promote the regrowth of heart, liver, spleen, kidneys and other internal organs that "shrink" with age. I'm not sure whether that would work or not, but the claims exist nonetheless.

Research with GH in the older population has generally yielded positive results. In fact, Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg of Tufts University recently stated, "Aging is a disease! We could save billions of dollars if we could delay the onset of chronic diseases by as little as ten years. There are more anti-aging agents than you can imagine and probably more that science can discover in the next century. But many of these barriers to aging are here now, right in front of our faces in the form of vitamins, minerals, natural enzymes, amino acids and other natural substances. Evidence is piling up, showing how they can fight aging. Prestigious medical journals are full of reports, unimaginable ten years ago, documenting the awesome powers of such natural substances to prevent, halt and reverse the deterioration that comes with advancing years."

In the paper from where this quote was taken, direct reference to the studies on GH replacement were made. These studies demonstrated that GH replacement might, as Cher would sing, "turn back time." Furthermore, according to Steven Grinspoon, M.D. of Harvard Medical School, GH replacement therapy can have a positive effect on body composition and blood lipids (reducing the bad cholesterol, LDL), in addition to enhancing bone density (good for fighting osteoporosis) and cardiac function. These are the real benefits; the ones that aren't usually marketed.

What are the downsides of using GH?

Downsides, besides having the guts of today's professional bodybuilders? There are a few, but it's important to understand that the downsides are usually related to GH abuse or overuse.

The first concern is that overdoing it with GH can cause fluid retention and high blood pressure as well as carpal tunnel syndrome. Minor muscle aches can also occur. The major side effects can be lengthening of bone plates (often visually observed as changes in the jawbone, forehead and feet) and insulin resistance (which can turn into diabetes). It may also turn on cancer "on and off" switches known as oncogenes, which may progress to various forms of cancer.

What are the upsides of using GH?

The positives, like the negatives, are dose related. Think of it this way, the higher the dose you take, the greater the chance you'll experience a negative side effect. However, strong research is accumulating that low dose GH is the way to go for body-fat reduction or reducing the risks of diabetes and heart disease. Eight good clinical trials have been published recently in top tier medical journals indicating the low-dose GH therapy is the way to go for altering body composition.

One study examined seven years of low dose GH replacement. The scientists found that an average daily dose of 1.83 IU (or 0.61 mg/day) per day significantly reduced body fat while actually improving insulin sensitivity! In yet another study of 595 adults, low-dose GH treatment resulted in a 4.38% increase in lean body mass and a body fat reduction of 6.35%. Interestingly enough, it appears that gender makes a difference as men had more favorable results than females.

In all of the "low dose" studies, the only side effect noted was arthralgia (muscle aches) and that occurred in the conventional treatment group (they received the normal GH replacement dose (0.0125 mg/d).

What is a "low-dose"?

Low dose treatment or usage of GH is typically in a range of 0.05 mg to 1.0 mg/day. Most people start high and reduce their GH dose as time marches on.

(Note: To understand the milligram (mg) and International Units (IU's) equivalence thing, the rule of thumb is that one milligram equals three IU.)

Most therapeutic long term treatments geared toward fat loss and enhanced lean-body mass are safely engaged with lower than normal doses. (The goal is maximum long term benefit with little to no downside, thus no need for conventional dosing). Bodybuilders, on the other hand, will take ten or more IU's daily, thus not really reaping the benefits of Ponce de Leon's dream. Remember that all good clinical trials have used lower doses than what bodybuilders tend to use and have yielded great results. If you want life extension and/or a greater quality of life, then listen to the research.

Where do people get GH?

Believe it or not, you can get GH from your physician. Good luck, though. Many doctors don't understand why someone would want to use GH to lose weight or increase their vitality. The sad fact is that many physicians aren't well read in this arena, thus they'll give you a hard time.

However, there are many good physicians and centers that will help you if you wish to have your GH levels tested. It's very easy to get GH if you're found to be GH deficient as an adult. Some places to contact if you're interested in learning more about GH for fat loss are:

Clinical Research for Human Growth Hormone. Their website is GrowthHormoneTherapy.net, phone number 800-815-7443.

American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Their website is HumanGrowth-Hormone.org, phone number 1-866-DIAL-GH.

AA & T Clinics in Atlanta, Georgia. Their websites are RenewMan.com and RenewWoman.com. Phone number 800- 859-7511.

To locate a clinic near you go to RxGH.com

My "informants" tell me that many people also get their GH from China (they import it). The company they get it from (supposedly) is Jiangxi Chinabase Import & Export, LTD. Their website is ChinaBases.com. It's a very thorough website and the company carries a wide and diverse amount of products. Before you import anything in, though, make sure to check your country's laws regarding products of interest.

The GH Wrap Up

Many people believe that the fountain of youth is human growth hormone. Available brands of GH includes Genotropin, Sazien, Seristim (Serostim), Humatotrope, Norditropin, Nutropin AQ, Nutropin, and Protropin.

The dosages used by pro-bodybuilders are ridiculous. These high and ultra-high doses can lead to diabetes, acromegaly, bloated guts and possibly cancer.

Lower doses of GH can reduce body fat and enhance lean body mass. Typical doses in research are ranging from 0.05 mg to 1.0 mg/day. This equates to 0.15 IU to 3 IU daily.

There are many places to get GH, from chinabases.com to rxGH.com and even your physician (perhaps). If you're going to use it, it's worth doing so in a medically supervised fashion. Ponce would be proud.