The Good and Bad of GH Replacement Therapy

Growth hormone (GH) replacement therapy is the latest anti-aging craze. More and more people are considering this form of therapy to turn back the years, yet with all the benefits that it provides, there is one major drawback. A quick look at the literature will give you an idea of the trade-off that exists with GH therapy.

In Growth hormone and aging by Bartke et al., 2000:

In 1990, Rudman and his colleagues reported that treatment of elderly men with GH reduced adiposity and increased muscle mass and bone mineral density. Inspite of limitations imposed by the design of this study and by the relatively small number of subjects involved, these findings are important and widely quoted. They suggest that treatment with GH or GH-releasing agents may reduce, prevent, or reverse various symptoms of aging in endocrinologically normal (normal for age) individuals. Moreover, data obtained in GH-deficient adults suggest that GH therapy can improve various subjective and objective measures of psychological well-being and “quality of life”. The apparent potential of GH as an anti-aging therapy generated understandably intense interest of the public as well as producers of GH and GH-related products. While studies of the risks and benefits of long term GH treatment in the elderly are ongoing, nationally advertised GH-related and GH-releasing products promise the consumer will “look and feel 10 years younger,” and describe the effects of these products as “taking the ride of your life.”

Results available to date and extrapolation from the results of androgen replacement in elderly men suggest that the benefits of GH therapy are likely to be negatively correlated to pre-treatment GH levels. In other words, individuals with GH levels lower than average for their age group will be far more likely to benefit from GH administration.

In Growth hormone and aging: A challenging controversy by Bartke, 2008:

How can we summarize the present understanding and use this information to suggest possible anti-aging interventions? Physiological action of the amounts of GH normally secreted by the pituitary is critically needed for growth and maturation and enhances reproductive potential but may also limit life expectancy. Somatotropic signaling can be suppressed by modest calorie restriction. Well-documented beneficial effects of calorie restriction on longevity of many species and on important predictors of life expectancy in humans suggest that subtle, long-term reduction in GH release and/or activity may have a potential to slow aging, protect from age-related disease and increase lifespan. However, the symptoms of congenital or acquired GH-deficiency clearly indicate that severe or complete suppression of GH actions can not be recommended or even seriously considered for enhancement of human longevity.

GH levels decline during aging. This natural change in the endocrine system most likely contributes to unwelcome effects of aging on body composition, skin characteristics and functional changes contributing to the general quality of life, but at the same time may offer protection from cancer and other age-related diseases. Thus GH replacement therapy is almost certain to involve both risks and benefits. It appears likely that future research will demonstrate benefits of low-dose GH therapy in some individuals with frailty and/or sarcopenia and clearly define contraindications to GH therapy, for example, family history or genetic predisposition to cancer. Current debates about the use of estrogens in postmenopausal women and testosterone in elderly men and emergence of guidelines for individualized approach to sex steroid therapy allow the prediction of how responsible use of GH in geriatric medicine may eventually evolve.

In Low insulin-like growth factor-1 level predicts survival in humans with exceptional longevity by Milman et al., 2014:

Populations with longevity are advantageous for investigation of factors that inhibit disease development or progression and promote survival. Although this study cannot delineate whether low IGF-1 levels existed earlier in the life course of these individuals, there is some evidence linking longevity and lower prevalence of several diseases with a reduction in the GH/IGF-1 signaling throughout the lifespan. Thus, we conclude that attenuation of the GH/IGF-1 axis may play an important role in extending survival in humans who achieve exceptional longevity, although this effect may be gender and disease specific. Furthermore, our results provide additional evidence against the rationale for treating older adults with GH replacement as an ‘antiaging’ strategy.

Bottom Line: GH therapy can certainly add life to your years but at the risk of sacrificing years from your life.


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