Human growth hormone (HGH) therapy is one of the safest forms of hormonal healthcare available because it uses biologically identical synthetic hormones that replace your body’s natural growth hormones – a process called hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Nonetheless, like any healthcare procedure, there are possible downsides to HGH therapy as well as associated risks.
Here, we’ll discuss the potential risks of growth hormone therapy and what you can do (in consultation with your doctor) to reduce or prevent the likelihood of experiencing adverse side effects.
What is human growth hormone?
HGH is a hormone that your body naturally produces within the pituitary gland, a small pea-shaped gland situated in the brain. It is an integral part of the endocrine system (the network of hormones and hormone receptor sites), the central function of which is to direct various bodily processes to ensure homeostasis.
HGH receptor sites are located in multiple organs and tissues – “including liver, muscle, adipose, and kidney, and in early embryonic and fetal tissue” as well as in the brain (which is why HGH is crucial for not just enhancing physical health but also mental health). So it’s an incredibly important hormone.
Accordingly, given its widespread presence, HGH is responsible for multiple functions. Among these are:
- enhancing mood
- promoting optimal cognition (memory and focus)
- regulating energy levels
- fostering regular metabolism
- stimulating muscle development
- fortifying bone health
- promoting libido (sex drive)
The pituitary gland releases HGH at the highest levels during deep sleep due to the fact that the majority of the body’s natural repair processes take place at night.
After the pituitary gland discharges HGH, it travels in the bloodstream to the liver, where it then triggers the release of another critical hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
IGF-1 and HGH are partner hormones, meaning that they work together to perform their work.
Occasionally, especially as we age, our pituitary gland does not produce adequate amounts of HGH, which can lead to negative health outcomes.
Why do patients receive GH therapy?
HGH deficiency (termed growth hormone deficiency, or GHD, in clinical terms), might develop in adults due to numerous reasons.
The most common causes of GHD in adults include:
- Head injuries (from car accidents or sports injuries)
- Inadequate blood supply to the brain
- Radiation from chemotherapy
- Idiopathic (unknown causes)
If a doctor suspects HGH deficiency, a simple, rapid blood test that measures HGH levels in the blood can offer a diagnosis. Here are normal levels in men, women, and children:
|Normal HGH Levels in Adults|
Research shows that GHD is quite common. In many instances, an elderly man or woman might have less than half the available HGH in the blood supply as he or she had as a young adult. However, although GHD is more prevalent in older populations, the condition can develop at any age.
If, indeed, blood test results show an abnormally low HGH level, the process of replacement therapy begins. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
- The patient consults with an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) to discuss any health concerns related to a potential HGH deficiency
- The endocrinologist, depending on the consultation, will order a blood screening to test HGH levels at a nearby clinic
- If the lab test indicates a deficiency, the endocrinologist will develop, in partnership with the patient, a strategy to improve HGH levels. This might include HGH replacement therapy with somatropin (synthetic HGH)
- Significant results are usually evident within 3-6 months of therapy, with the greatest benefits accruing around the 1-year mark
Is HGH therapy safe?
HGH therapy, as we mentioned at the outset, is one of the safest forms of hormonal healthcare available to US patients.
HGH replacement therapy is safe both for the short-term and long-term treatment of adult human growth hormone deficiency (GHD):
Recombinant human growth hormone (rHGH) has been successfully used in adult patients with GHD since 1985.
The only safe and effective form of HGH therapy utilizes injectable somatropin. Creams, gels, and pills are ineffective.
What are the risks of taking HGH?
Even though it’s one of the safest long-term therapies available to US patients, HGH replacement therapy does carry a set of risks. Here are the potential risks of HRT with synthetic growth hormone:
- Increased insulin resistance
- Leg and arm swelling (edema)
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Type 2 diabetes
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Increased risk of certain cancer types
- Tingling or numbness (paresthesia)
- Enlargement of breast tissue (gynecomastia) in men
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
The most common side effect, by far, is fluid retention (edema) due to overdose. This is usually treated by adjusting the dosage.
Long-term abuse of HGH can lead to more serious chronic health conditions.
How can you prevent or reduce the side effects?
The single most important thing for patients to remember is that HGH replacement therapy is only safe under the careful, regular supervision of an experienced endocrinologist who specializes in HRT.
Similarly, also important is to always follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. Do not deviate from the prescribed dosage or the timing of dosages. If you miss a scheduled dose, simply wait until the next administration is scheduled and continue with the protocol as planned.
Never use HGH that is:
- Purchased illegally without a prescription from a licensed doctor
- Sourced from the black market
- Imported from the Third World and not approved for use in the US
How to get started on HGH therapy?
The first step to getting started on HGH replacement therapy is to identify a seasoned healthcare provider with the expertise and experience necessary to guide you on your hormone optimization journey.
The next steps are:
- Physical exam and medical history exploration with a physician
- Blood testing
- Follow-up consultation
- Therapy begins
- Routine monitoring
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding HGH Therapy
Let’s explore some of the most frequently asked questions that patients have regarding the safety and efficacy of HGH replacement therapy.
No. About 30% of patients experience mild side effects such as stiffness, muscle or joint pain, or injection site pain. Serious side effects are extremely rare.
No. If administered correctly, with HGH levels lifted into the optimal range under the care of an experienced endocrinologist, HGH will actually increase lifespan in many cases by preventing or limiting the development of chronic disease.
HGH is a potent hormone with important physiological and psychological implications. Never stop taking HGH without the supervision of an endocrinologist.
Possible physical effects of HGH cessation include joint pain, unwanted weight gain, dry skin, muscle loss, and hair loss. Possible psychological effects of HGH cessation include “decreased energy, and increased tiredness, pain, irritability and depression.”