The Skinny on Growth Hormone
We all need growth hormone, but too much or too little can have adverse effects on the body.
If you’ve seen the classic movie “The Princess Bride,” you most likely remember the character Fezzik played by actor Andre Rene Roussimoff — better known as “Andre the Giant.” Ever wonder why he was so large in stature? Andre suffered from an excess of human growth hormone (HGH) in his body, which in large amounts can cause disease.
We All Need Growth Hormone
HGH is produced by the pituitary gland, and we all have some amounts of it in our bodies. It spurs growth in children and adolescents and helps to regulate body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function.
Using It for Good
A synthetic HGH was developed and approved by the FDA in the mid 1980s, injections of which have been used to treat children short in stature for various reasons. In adults, approved uses include the treatment of:
- Short bowel syndrome, intestinal disease or surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine
- HGH deficiency due to rare tumors in the pituitary gland
- Muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS
Too Much or Too Little
Kids who don’t have enough HGH can be shorter than other kids their age. Conversely, too much HGH can cause a condition known as acromegaly or gigantism, such as in the case of Andre. Too much HGH has also been linked to diabetes and congestive heart failure.
Unknown Long-Term Effects
Because HGH contributes to cell reproduction and regeneration and levels of this hormone decrease with age, there are claims that HGH products could reverse age-related bodily deterioration by increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing fat mass. These claims are unproven, and the use of HGH for anti-aging has not been approved by the FDA. More studies are needed to test the effectiveness of these claims, as well as the long-term effects of HGH on the body.
Athletes have been known to use the hormone, along with other performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, to build muscle in an attempt to improve athletic performance. This use has also not been approved by the FDA, and the impact of HGH on athletic performance is unknown.