Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 02, 2024
5 min read

Human growth hormone (HGH), also called somatotropin, is a hormone that the pituitary gland, which is about the size of a pea and found at the base of your brain, makes and releases. The pituitary gland has two parts – a front (anterior) and a back (posterior) lobe. The back lobe produces HGH.

There are two types of HGH: the kind your body naturally makes and a synthetic version. Doctors prescribe synthetic HGH to treat specific health conditions.

Human growth hormone does two main things: It helps kids grow and affects how your body uses food for energy.

For growth, HGH tells certain cells in your bones and cartilage to multiply, especially during puberty, making you taller. After puberty, it keeps your body in shape. For metabolism, HGH boosts a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which works like insulin to control your blood sugar levels. 

Your pituitary gland releases HGH in pulses, which vary in size and length depending on things like time of day, age, and sex. Normal HGH levels include:

  • Adults assigned male at birth: 0.4 to 10 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) or 18 to 44 picomoles per liter (pmol/L).
  • Adults assigned female at birth: 1 to 14 ng/mL or 44 to 616 pmol/L.
  • Children: 10 to 50 ng/mL or 440 to 2,200 pmol/L.

These ranges can differ between labs, so always check your lab report for the specific normal range. If you have any questions about your results, talk to your doctor.

The only FDA-approved form of synthetic HGH comes as a shot, and you can get it only by prescription. You may see HGH products – or products that claim to increase your body's production of HGH – in the form of pills and sprays. These are not approved by the FDA, and the Federal Trade Commission has seen no reliable evidence to support the claim that these products have the same effects as prescription HGH. If you take HGH by mouth, your stomach digests it before your body can absorb it.

Scientists developed synthetic human growth hormone in 1985, and the FDA approved it for specific uses in children and adults. In children, HGH shots treat 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 disease
  • HGH deficiency or insufficiency
  • Children born small for their gestational age

HGH for adults with growth hormone deficiency

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 that comes with with HIV or AIDS

Can HGH increase your height after age 21?

Human growth hormone only makes children taller. Once the growth plates in a child's bones have fused, HGH stops working in this way.

The most common uses for HGH are not FDA-approved. Still, some people get HGH shots from doctors who prescribe them for off-label purposes (uses for which the FDA did not approve them) and through Internet pharmacies, anti-aging clinics, and websites.

HGH in elite sports

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.

HGH for aging

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

HGH for sexual performance

Studies show that artificial human growth hormone might boost sexual performance. It could help men with things like getting an erection, and may also enhance women's sexual function, but it is not FDA-approved for this use.



Possible side effects of HGH use include:

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

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

Scientific research shows there may be ways to boost or maintain your HGH levels naturally, including:


Regular exercise could change your growth hormone level, keeping it from dropping too much, especially as you age. 


When you sleep, your body releases growth hormone along with other hormones. A lack of sleep disrupts and lowers growth hormone, affecting how well your brain works and possibly leading to problems with memory and thinking.

Arginine supplements

Researchers gave a group of men an amino acid supplement called arginine to see how it affected their hormones. They found that arginine increases growth hormone, but they will need to do more studies to explore this effect.

Does fasting increase growth hormone?

In one study, researchers found that during a 24-hour fast, the amount of energy your body uses during various activities dropped, while growth hormone levels rose by a lot. 

Human growth hormone (HGH), produced by the pituitary gland, regulates growth and metabolism. Synthetic HGH, which you can get by prescription, treats conditions like short stature in children and muscle-wasting diseases in adults. It's not FDA-approved for anti-aging or performance enhancement. Side effects may include joint pain, swelling, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a higher chance of getting diabetes and cancer. Natural ways to boost HGH may include exercise, getting enough sleep, arginine supplements, and fasting, but researchers must study this more closely.