On Growth Hormone and Longevity - Or Not

Growth hormone is one of those topics in which the science is fighting a slow and steady uphill battle against the marketing dollars of those making money from the application of growth hormone (or anything that they can pass off as its application). The "anti-aging" industry will make money in the short term, but being on the wrong side of the science is a losing proposition in the long term - they can't waste time and misinform people forever. From the recent past here at Fight Aging!:

Talking About Human Growth Hormone :

Growth hormone, once you cut through the irresponsible marketing, is nothing more than another fairly outmoded workhorse therapy for very specific conditions. The anti-aging marketplace could just as easily have worked itself up into a frothing mania over an osteoporosis drug, or something to mitigate menopausal symptoms - the brand snowballs in size and the money treads science underfoot for these people.

Growth Hormone in the Press Again:

From where I stand, growth hormone therapies appear to be a legitimate old-school style therapy for some age-related and other conditions. As for most old-school medicine, it's a roll of the dice as to whether you'll benefit or suffer - no-one can say for sure what's really going on under the hood, or how your biochemistry will take it. Use is an educated risk assessment that people have to make for themselves - and caveat emptor is a very good rule of thumb when dealing with anything associated with the "anti-aging" marketplace. If you had to stick a pin in the map for anti-aging shyster central, human growth hormone would be it - a pity that the legitimate uses have been buried beneath a cartload of marketing.

Still, in a free society, you could stick whatever you liked into your body provided you were prepared to foot the bill for the consequences. Sadly, we do not live in a free society; insofar as medicine goes, we live in a highly regulated, paternalistic, socialist enclave. A commons has been created, and every potential tragedy leads to calls for further control and expansion rather than the much more sensible abolition of the commons.

In any case, my attention was drawn today to further confirmation of the above viewpoints from the scientific community:

No longevity benefit with growth hormone:

Liu's team undertook a systematic review and analysis of published studies, excluding any that looked at diseases for which growth hormone is an accepted therapy. They focused solely on studies using growth hormone to treat the elderly, specifically those whose main maladies were nothing worse than age and being mildly to moderately overweight. They also included only studies that evaluated the use of the hormone in randomized, controlled clinical trials.

Of all the papers contained in two of the largest databases of medical literature in the world, only 31 met the team's criteria. The 31 studies had a combined total of slightly more than 500 participants, and the average duration of therapy was about six months, said Liu, adding that he was surprised at the limited amount of data in the literature.

"These studies were designed to look at what happens when you give growth hormone to a healthy elderly person," said Liu. "For example, what happens to their bone density, to their exercise levels and to their exercise capacity."

The researchers found that growth hormone had a modest effect on body composition, increasing lean body mass, or muscle, by slightly more than 2 kilograms and decreasing body fat by roughly the same amount.

But, Liu said, "It did not change other clinically important outcomes, such as bone density measurements, cholesterol and lipid measurements, and maximal oxygen consumption." In short, the studies provided no real evidence that the therapy resulted in increased fitness.

"From our review, there's no data to suggest that growth hormone prolongs life, and none of the studies makes that claim," said Liu.

The bottom line is that nothing being sold today - and especially nothing being overhyped today - is going to work spectacular wonders for your longevity. If spectacular longevity is pencilled into your plans for the future, then you're going to have to get up and help make it happen - research and development is needed to make the possible into the real when it comes to healthy life extension, and that requires some degree of support, initiative and effort from all of us.

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I think growth hormone definitely has a place, but it's not a miracle anti-aging drug by itself contrary to all the hype. What would have been interesting is to study the effects of GH on healthy elderly along with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) i.e. restoring testosterone/estrogen/progesterone levels to a 25 y.o's level. I suspect that this combination would only have a minor effect on longevity, but would probably make a major difference in quality of life.

Posted by: Maetenloch at January 17th, 2007 5:48 PM

"...increasing lean body mass, or muscle, by slightly more than 2 kilograms and decreasing body fat by roughly the same amount."

"In short, the studies provided no real evidence that the therapy resulted in increased fitness."

Swapping 2 kilos of fat for 2 kilos of muscle doesn't count as increased fitness...?

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 17th, 2007 9:47 PM

I believe growth hormone and other hormones, supplements,low calorie diet, exercise and other healthy practices retard premature aging (but probably not "normal" aging). I don't expect that any of the above will extend my life beyond 130 years.
True enough there is no magic bullet and probably never will be to conquer aging. It must be multifaceted comprehensive plan practised every day.

Personally, I haven't tried growth hormone yet because I haven't found an anti-aging doctor to prescribe it.

Did anyone of you people who had been injecting growth hormone for many years ever experience turning white/grey hair on your heads to natural color at the roots -- the same color which you had when you were a teen ager?

Posted by: nick at January 30th, 2007 4:59 PM

You may have seen the June AARP magazine article by Dr. Andrew Weil, the Debunker which gives the mistaken impression that there is only one medical publication (Rudman NEJM 1990) which reports the beneficial effects of growth hormone on the physical parameters of aging.

In reality there has been over 20 years of research with thousands of medical studies showing benefits from Growth Hormone therapy, and extremely high safety profile.

Growth Hormone is a patented FDA approved pharmaceutical with proven efficacy, and therefore Dr. Weil's "snake oil" label for growth hormone is hardly appropriate.

Benefits of (HGH) growth hormone include improved body composition, increased muscle and less body fat, improved bone density, improved wound healing, improved cognitive function, and improved sense of well being.

Burn victims heal faster with growth hormone and have increased muscle protein synthesis. Patients with Crohn's disease and short bowel syndrome show improved nutritional status with HGH treatment. Cardiac cachexia patients gain weight, get well and leave the hospital. Hip fracture patients heal with fewer complications.

The AARP Dr. Andrew Weil "the Debunker" article fails to tell us that our hormone levels decline dramatically after age 50, and by the age of 60 most adults have Growth Hormone levels indistinguishable from those of hypopituitary patients with organic lesions in the pituitary gland.

Jeffrey Dach MD

Posted by: Jeffrey Dach MD at June 25th, 2007 3:32 PM
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