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The Truth About HGH for Weight Loss

Can human growth hormone help you burn fat and build muscle?
By
WebMD Expert Column

Can a naturally occurring hormone that promotes growth and development be a dieter's dream come true? The quest for an easier weight loss solution has some people taking human growth hormone (HGH) in pills, powders, and injections.

A few small studies have linked HGH injections with fat loss and muscle gain. But the changes seen were minimal -- just a few pounds -- while the risks and potential side effects are not. And experts warn that HGH is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight loss.

How HGH Works

HGH is produced by the pituitary gland to fuel growth and development in children. It also maintains some bodily functions, like tissue repair, muscle growth, brain function, energy, and metabolism, throughout life.

HGH production peaks during the teenage years and slowly declines with age. Studies have shown that obese adults have lower levels than normal-weight adults. And these lower levels of HGH have some people wondering whether a boost of HGH could enhance weight loss, especially in the obese.

HGH has also gained a reputation as a muscle builder, and its use is banned in the Olympics and other sports. However, there is little solid evidence that it can boost athletic performance.

Early Study Sparks Interest in HGH

Interest in using HGH for weight loss stems from a 1990 New England Journal of Medicine study that showed injections of synthetic HGH resulted in 8.8% gain in muscle mass and 14% loss in body fat without any change in diet or exercise. Although this study appeared to be promising, many later studies have shown no such benefit.

In March 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine took the unusual step of denouncing misuse of the 1990 study, pointing out that subsequent reports provide no reason to be optimistic.

Despite this, this 1990 study is still being used to promote Internet sales of HGH for weight loss.

Small Changes, But No Weight Loss

When adults with an HGH deficiency resulting from pituitary disease are given HGH replacement, it improves body composition -- increasing bone mass and muscle mass and decreasing fat stores.

But it does not cause weight loss in the obese, says Nicholas Tritos, MD, who co-authored an analysis evaluating the effectiveness of HGH for weight loss in obese people.

"Our results showed small improvements in body composition, a small reduction in body fat and increase in muscle mass, but on balance, weight did not change," he says. "More notable changes are seen when an individual is deficient in growth hormone from true pituitary disease."

Another study found that HGH therapy was linked to a small decrease in fat and increase in lean mass, but no change in body weight. The researchers concluded that HGH is not an effective treatment in obese people, and said more studies were needed.

Further, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists has warned that the use of HGH for obese patients is not recommended.

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