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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

Growth hormone costly and chancy

By Laurie Steelsmith

What's the bottom line on taking human growth hormone? What is it used for, and are there side-effects?

A. Supplemental human growth hormone (HGH) has been the all the rage for its supposedly "miraculous" ability to stop, or even reverse, the aging process. Claims have been made that it can extend life, increase muscle mass without exercise, decrease body fat, boost energy, increase sex drive, and improve immunity.

Unfortunately, HGH comes at a heavy price, financial and otherwise. The cost of regular injections can run from $3,000 to $10,000 a year, and there can be serious side-effects.

Your body naturally produces its own HGH. When you are young, your pituitary gland releases high amounts of the hormone to assist with your rapid growth and development. Around the age of 20, after you've reached full height and physical maturity, your release of growth hormone subsides.

Supplemental HGH is available through a physician. It has been used medicinally to help children with certain health problems achieve full height. It has also been used to help decrease weight loss in adults with AIDS.

Some physicians in the United States prescribe HGH to healthy adults who wish to use it as an anti-aging drug. However, taking HGH when you don't need it can increase your risks of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and abnormal growth of your bones and internal organs — including your heart, kidneys, and liver.

Supplementing with HGH may also increase your risk of cancer. An article published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 1999 suggested that HGH could elevate the risk of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men because it raises levels of another hormone, insulin-like growth factor, which is associated with increased cancer risk.

Products have hit the market which purport to increase the release of growth hormone. These products usually contain amino acids, glandular extracts, or homeopathic preparations.

Do they increase growth hormone levels? Nobody knows for sure, but if they do I would have similar concerns about their potential side-effects.

The best way to increase your growth hormone level is by exercising regularly. As I often tell my patients, exercise stimulates your pituitary gland to release your natural HGH. And it releases only the amount you need to benefit your health — no more, and no less — which is truly miraculous.

Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu. Send questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802, or islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com.

You can also contact her and see her past columns at www.drlauriesteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.