Growth Hormone: Use and Abuse

GH is made by the pituitary glad, located at the base of the brain. GH helps children grow taller (also called linear growth), increases muscle mass, and decrease body fat. In both children and adults GH helps control the body’s metabolism – the process by which cells change food into energy and make other substances needed by the body. People can experience harmful side effects when thy abuse GH.

What is human growth hormone?

Human growth hormone (GH) is a substance that regulates your body’s growth and metabolism. GH is made by the pituitary glad, located at the base of the brain. GH helps children grow taller (also called linear growth), increases muscle mass, and decrease body fat. In both children and adults GH helps control the body’s metabolism – the process by which cells change food into energy and make other substances needed by the body.

If children or adults have too much or too little GH, they may have health problems. Growth hormone deficiency (too little GH) and some other health problems can be treated with synthetic (manufactured) GH. Sometimes GH is used illegally for non-medical purposes.

How is growth hormone therapy used?

GH is only available by prescription and is injected.

In children, GH is used to treat

  • Growth hormone deficiency
  • Muscle wasting (loss of muscle tissue) for HIV
  • Short bowel syndrome

In addition to these use, doctors outside of the US sometimes prescribe GH for other conditions. (When doctors prescribe medicines for conditions other than the ones officially approved the process is called “off-label” use.)

Is growth hormone use appropriate for healthy adults?

Studies of healthy adults taking GH have produced conflicting results. Some short-term studies showed that older adults increased their endurance and strength, with increase muscle and decreased fat mass. But other studies did not show similar benefits. More studies are needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of GH use in healthy adults. Aside from its use in research studies, prescribing or using GH off-label is illegal. Adults can achieve improved health, body composition, strength, and endurance by following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

How is growth hormone abused?

People sometimes take GH illegally to stop or reverse the effects of aging or to improve athletic performance. Some athletes believe taking GH alone will not achieve the desired results, so take it along with anabolic (tissue-building) steroids in a effort to build muscle, increase strength, and decrease body fat. Some athletes also use insulin to increase the muscular effects of GH, which is a dangerous practice because it lowers blood sugar.

What are the risks of growth hormone abuse?

People can experience harmful side effects when thy abuse GH. Side effects of short-term use include joint and muscle pain, fluid build-up, and swelling in the joints. If GH is injected with shared needles, people may be exposed to AIDS or hepatitis. Taking high doses of GH over a long period of time may contribute to heart disease GH sold illegally may contain unknown and potentially harmful ingredients. For example, if people take GH derived from human tissue, they risk developing a fatal brain condition called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a condition similar to mad cow disease.

Growth hormone sold without a prescription

Some companies sell human GH pills or GH releasers, claiming that the pills are “anti-aging” substances. But these substances have not been proven to increase the body’s production of GH or fight aging, increase muscle, or provide other benefits. GH has no effect if it’s taken as a pill because it is inactivated during digestion.

What are the most important things to remember?

  • Synthetic GH is safe and effective when used for certain conditions approved by the FDA.
  • GH must be prescribed by a physician.
  • Abuse of GH can have serious side effects.
  • Healthy adults can improve their health and fitness with diet and exercise.
  • If you’re worried about GH deficiency in yourself or a family member, talk with a doctor.

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