This is a short protein hormone that stimulates cell growth, increases lean muscle mass and strength. It is produced by the pituitary gland, which sits at the base of the brain and is about as big as a grape.
You may remember this gland as the controller of the hormone universe in your body. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that connects to the pituitary. The brain makes a chemical on-and-off switch, the balance of these tells the pituitary how much growth hormone to make.
See, this isn’t so tough, there is probably a little neuroscientist hiding inside of you.
Not surprisingly, early adolescence is the time that growth hormone is the highest it ever gets. With age we generally stop growing, and growth hormone levels drop.
One artificial exception is athletes have long been doping with human growth hormone as an anabolic steroid that couldn’t be detected in the urine. Around 2000 this ended with the development of a blood test for HGH.
While considering growth hormone supplementation, there is a disease model caused by excess growth hormone, usually from a pituitary tumor, called acromegaly.
Prolonged high levels of growth hormone cause these unfortunate people to develop facial disfigurement that makes them look like cave men. Real cave men didn’t live long or age well, and acromegaly patients suffer a similar fate; hardly the fountain of youth.
But many still hear the siren’s call of lean muscle mass, and seek human growth hormone any way they can get it. The drug companies are happy to help and there are 10 different brands of human growth hormone available.
A reasonable dose will run you about $2,500 per week or a cool $130,000 per year – and that’s just for the medication. Doctor visits and lab work are extra. And you end up with neither a set of very fancy wheels to tool about town nor a house to rest your weary bones in. Needless to say, most insurance coverage won’t pony up for these kinds of bills.
But the supplement market sees an economic opportunity. One HGH product is available at $99.99 on its website or $89.99 at a local store.
This HGH product advertises that it will remove decades of age from your body. So presumably my 55-year-old self starts looking and feeling like I’m 35. How much would you pay for that?
What is this stuff? Well, it isn’t human growth hormone. HGH is a protein and it would be completely digested by the enzymes in the stomach. That would make it the most expensive meal you ever ate.
If you read the fine print, the product claims it is a HGH releaser. It supposedly makes your body put more HGH into circulation where you can work on your younger, stronger, good-looking self.
Unfortunately, it is only a couple of amino acids, which are the simple building blocks of proteins. Like masonry building blocks, they have no idea how to build themselves into something complicated, like the Washington Monument, or a hormone.
And these amino acids can be found as part of most quality proteins you might eat; like an egg white. Would you pay $99.99 for an egg white, pre-digested?
Supplements are licensed by the FDA as food, not drugs or medications. The FDA concerns itself principally with making sure they are not poisonous to eat. And this HGH product certainly isn’t poisonous.
The claims that HGH is the fountain of youth are ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the claim that a handful of amino acids magically produce high levels of HGH.
We are left with the hard work of exercising and watching our diet if we want to feel younger. That and an extra $99.99 in our pocket!
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Image courtesy of Baitong333 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net