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Growth Hormone in Older Patients Risky

Fountain Of Youth Finds A Few Disappointing Results
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Nov. 12, 2002 (Washington) -- Growth and sex hormones are all the rage these days for the treatment of everything from a bulging waistline to sexual dysfunction, but they are "not ready for prime time" and in fact could have serious side effects, according to the lead author of a report in this week's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"At this juncture, for anti-aging use, growth hormone should be 100% limited to controlled clinical trials," said Marc R. Blackman, MD, of the National Institutes of Health, at a news conference.

It isn't known how many people are taking growth hormone supplements, but anecdotal evidence suggests that many people in their 40s and 50s are taking it in hopes of preventing various conditions of aging. But there is not sufficient research to suggest that it will have a positive effect, said Blackman.

The current study followed healthy men and women between the ages of 65 and 88 as they received one of three combinations: growth hormone plus a sex steroid (estradiol and progesterone for women, testosterone for men); growth hormone plus a placebo; or a sex steroid plus a placebo.

There were encouraging results: fat body mass decreased significantly in both men and women taking either GH alone or GH with the sex hormones. The study also found that in both men and women taking GH in combination with the sex hormone, lean body mass (muscle) increased significantly.

But "disappointingly," Blackman said, the researchers did not find any significant increase in strength as measured by a weightlifting test. In women, strength was unaffected by either GH treatment or the sex hormone treatment, whether alone or in combination therapy. In men, on the other hand, treatment with GH plus testosterone only marginally improved strength.

Still, the reduction in fat mass and gain in lean mass is an encouraging effect.

But there were several adverse side effects in both men and women taking GH therapy including swelling (edema), joint pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Of greatest concern, however, was the "very high frequency" of glucose intolerance or diabetes, Blackman said. These conditions appeared in 18 of the men who received growth hormone versus only seven who did not receive it.

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