Growth Hormones Not Fountain of Youth
Treatment Offers Few Benefits but Definite Risks
Jan. 16, 2007 -- Older Americans taking shots of human growth hormone in an
effort to turn back the clock will likely be disappointed.
As an antiaging treatment, the hormones appear to offer few benefits but
significant health risks, a review of the research finds.
Stanford University researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing 31
studies that included a total of more than 500 relatively healthy elderly
The only clearly positive effect found from taking the hormones was a slight
improvement in lean body mass.
On the negative side, participants who took human growth hormones were
significantly more likely to develop joint swelling and pain, and carpal tunnel
There was also a suggestion of an increased risk of diabetes and prediabetes, but that association
did not reach statistical significance.
Authors of the review say better studies are needed to understand the risks
and benefits of human growth hormone as an antiaging treatment.
But they say studies do not support the use of human growth hormones for
"If the benefits truly are minimal, and the risks are not, this is not a
therapy that should be used for antiaging purposes," Hau Liu, MD, MBA, MPH
Use Growing Among Elderly
Growth hormone is naturally produced in the pituitary gland at the base of
the brain, but its levels decline with age.
Promoters of synthetic growth hormone as an antiaging treatment claim the
hormones can do everything from firm sagging skin to boost a sagging
According to government figures, between 25,000 and 30,000 Americans used
growth hormones for aging purposes in 2004. That is a tenfold
increase in about a decade, Thomas T. Perls, MD, tells WebMD.
"The cost of this treatment can be $12,000 a year or more, but even if
you take the cost out of the equation, there is still a huge potential for
causing harm," Perls says. "The people promoting this stuff have
absolutely no idea what the long-term health effects are."
Because human growth hormone has not been approved for use as an antiaging
treatment by federal regulators, Perls argues that doctors who prescribe it for
this purpose are breaking the law.
He first made that charge in a report published in The Journal of the
American Medical Association in late 2005.
Perls' report prompted Liu and colleagues to conduct their review of the
research on human growth hormone as an antiaging treatment.
No Fountain of Youth
The researchers limited their review to randomized, controlled clinical
trials that included relatively healthy elderly people.
The participants used growth hormone for an average of about six months.
While growth hormone did appear to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body
fat by an average of just over 4 pounds, it did not appear to have an effect on
other measures of fitness, including bone
density, cholesterol, and lipid levels.
"From our review, there's not data to suggest that growth hormone
prolongs life, and none of the studies make that claim," Liu says.
Liu tells WebMD he was surprised to find so little research has been done on
the use of growth hormones in the elderly population -- especially since so
many claims have been made about the treatment's benefits.
But he says he understands why people believe the hype.
"Elderly people today are very health conscious and they are trying to
do all they can to take care of themselves," Liu says. "But our
conclusion is that growth hormone does not represent a magic bullet or the
fountain of youth."