By Virginia Eaton —
I’ve been on the local lecture circuit lately and having a good time on my soapbox. I love talking about my passion — diets and other myths (more on this another time). During my most recent stop at noon Rotary, I was asked a question on a topic that I didn’t know enough about to offer an opinion. Whenever this happens, I immediately go home and start researching.
The question was whether using human growth hormone (HGH) as a supplement to prevent aging and age-related declines was a safe, effective option.
HGH is produced by our body’s pituitary gland to stimulate growth in children and regulate metabolism, as well as control muscle and bone growth. We secrete this hormone throughout our lifetime but in much smaller amounts once we have reached adulthood.
A synthetic version of HGH was developed in the 1980s and has been a godsend for certain diseases and genetic disorders. Of course, being the creative creatures that human beings are, the off-label use of HGH has risen to astonishing proportions for those thinking this substance might turn back the hands of time. Unfortunately, the unintended use of HGH may be reducing lifespans rather than increasing them.
The first group of people to exploit synthetic HGH was body builders, who are notorious for trying anything and everything to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat — regardless of evidence supporting or debunking its effectiveness. The controls on this stuff are pretty tight and, unless specific criteria were met, even doctors could not write a prescription.
However, body builders were still able to get their hands on it and inject themselves (the only way that it is effective) on a rotating schedule to try and mimic the body’s natural production of HGH. Like other steroids, HGH is effective at increasing muscle mass and may boost athletic performance, but not without side effects such as carpal tunnel syndrome and increased risk of cardio vascular diseases. Yet, some body builders are willing to do some pretty crazy stuff to create a massive lean body. Your average Joe would never take those kinds of risk, right? Wrong!
The next group to see the advantages of this man-made hormone has been those looking for the fountain of youth. A defining characteristic of the baby boomer generation is its struggle to prevent age from impacting lifestyle.
Boomers have their collective ear to the ground for the most beneficial (and easiest) way to prevent nature from taking its course. The hope was that HGH would stop or at least greatly slow the aging process, protect muscle mass and bone density as well as keep one’s libido working like a good ‘ole days.
Unfortunately, unless you are someone with a disorder that prevents your body from producing HGH, supplementing won’t help you much and the side effects as mentioned above can be problematic.
If you are injecting yourself with a substance to keep you young, yet the side effects are some you hope to prevent — possible increase risk for heart attack, cancer, and joint ailments, for example — I’m not sure I see the point!
Researchers followed 184 men and women in the 90s for over a decade to see what physiological changes occur as they age. The interesting finding was, those in the study with the lowest levels of a substance called insulin-like growth factor (IGF) were living the longest. which is what HGH stimulates the body to make.
In another study examining cancer survivors, those with the lowest levels of IGF were most likely to live the longest. It is a great irony that taking a substance to revive your youth puts you at greater risk for dying!
The human body functions in concert with a myriad of systems, substances, and chemical reactions that create a vital healthy body. The process of aging is controlled by your DNA, your lifestyle and your environment and is inevitable. However, the complexity of our body systems means we ought to be very thoughtful about introducing foreign or manmade substances; the consequences may not be what we expect.
If you are looking for that fountain of youth, it is out there, sort of – there is a clear and relatively simple roadmap of data detailing how to slow the aging process. It centers on diet, exercise, and stress management. It might be a little more work than injecting hormones but the outcome is much more predictable and beneficial