Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fitness & Exercise

Font Size

Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

Some people turn to a substance called human growth hormone (HGH) in hopes that it will keep them feeling and looking youthful. But experts say that hope is unfounded. And worse, these products can be harmful.

HGH, produced by the pituitary gland, spurs growth in children and adolescents. It also helps to regulate body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function. Produced synthetically, HGH is the active ingredient in a number of prescription drugs and in other products available widely over the Internet.

HGH Uses and Abuses

Synthetic human growth hormone was developed in 1985 and approved by the FDA for specific uses in children and adults. In children, HGH injections are approved for treating short stature of unknown cause as well as poor growth due to a number of medical causes, including:

  • Turner's syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects a girl's development.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome, an uncommon genetic disorder causing poor muscle tone, low levels of sex hormones, and a constant feeling of hunger.
  • Chronic kidney insufficiency.
  • HGH deficiency or insufficiency.
  • Children born small for gestational age.

In adults, approved uses of HGH include:

  • Short bowel syndrome, a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed due to severe intestinal disease or the surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine.
  • HGH deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or their treatment.
  • Muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS.

But the most common uses for HGH are not FDA-approved. Some people use the hormone, along with other performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, to build muscle and improve athletic performance. Yet HGH's effect on athletic performance is unknown.

Because the body's HGH levels naturally decrease with age, some so-called antiaging experts have speculated and claimed that HGH products could reverse age-related bodily deterioration. But these claims, too, are unproven. The use of HGH for antiaging is not FDA-approved.

Nevertheless, some people obtain injectable HGH from doctors who prescribe it for off-label purposes (uses for which it was not approved by the FDA) and through Internet pharmacies, antiaging clinics, and web sites.

Others purchase HGH products -- or products that claim to increase your body's own production of HGH -- in the form of pills and sprays. Companies that market these products on TV infomercials or online claim they turn back your body's biological clock, reducing fat, building muscle, restoring hair growth and color, strengthening the immune system, normalizing blood sugar, increasing energy and improving sex life, sleep quality, vision, and memory. However, the Federal Trade Commission has seen no reliable evidence to support the claim that these products have the same effects as prescription HGH, which is always given by injection. Taken orally, HGH is digested by the stomach before it can be absorbed into the body. 

HGH Side Effects and Other Hazards

Possible side effects of HGH use include:

  • nerve, muscle, or joint pain
  • swelling due to fluid in the body's tissues (edema)
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • numbness and tingling of the skin
  • high cholesterol levels

HGH can also increase the risk of diabetes and contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors.  

Furthermore, if you get the drug illicitly, you may not know what you are really getting. Because of the high cost, HGH drugs have been counterfeited. If you are not getting HGH from your doctor, you may be getting an unapproved product.

You also should speak with your doctor before considering any form of HGH.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on October 11, 2012

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

Wet feet on shower floor tile
Slideshow
Flat Abs
Slideshow
 
Build a Better Butt Slideshow
Slideshow
woman using ice pack
Quiz
 

man exercising
Article
7 most effective exercises
Interactive
 
Man looking at watch before workout
Slideshow
Overweight man sitting on park bench
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

pilates instructor
Slideshow
jogger running among flowering plants
Video
 
woman walking
Article
Taylor Lautner
Article