Ask the doctor
Q. I’ve heard about the benefits of human growth hormone (HGH) for older individuals. Is this something I should try?
A. The benefits of HGH supplementation for older adults are unproven, and perhaps most telling is that these products have a negligible effect on HGH levels. In addition, there are concerns about potential side effects.
HGH comes in two forms: injections and pills. Since HGH injections are difficult to administer, pills are often preferred. Yet, these supplements do not actually contain HGH like injections do, because the hormone would quickly break down in the digestive tract. Instead, they contain amino acids that are absorbed by the body, which raises HGH levels. (They are also more expensive and can cost $100-plus for a month’s supply.)
HGH levels naturally decline as people age, which makes sense since our bodies stop growing during the late teenage years. So why would you need higher HGH levels later in life? The hype around HGH comes from a few studies that showed HGH injections can increase lean body mass and shrink body fat, which led to claims of HGH as an “anti-aging” hormone. However, the effects on strength and body weight are quite minimal. In addition, HGH can increase the amount of soft tissues in the body, which can lead to swelling, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and breast tenderness in men.
There is also a concern that HGH might promote cancer growth. (MaryO’Note: I always mentioned this to doctors when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Even though I couldn’t take HGH for the first 5 years after diagnosis, none of my doctors would confirm a connection between HGH and my cancer)
If you want to improve your strength, forget about HGH and increase your exercise. Some studies suggest this alone may be more effective than HGH supplementation for raising growth hormone levels in the body.
—William Kormos, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch
Originally published: July 2016