Human growth hormone (HGH) describes a naturally occurring hormone that the pituitary gland produces. It is responsible for stimulating growth and cell regeneration. While some people may believe it could help slow aging, there is currently little scientific evidence to support this.
HGH, also known simply as growth hormone or somatotropin, refers to a chain of 191 amino acids that the pituitary gland produces to help promote growth during childhood and adolescence. This hormone is also responsible for regulating body composition and many metabolic functions.
HGH levels naturally reduce from middle age onward. As such, there is a growing interest as to whether maintaining HGH levels in older age could provide anti-aging benefits. However, current research suggests that HGH shows little benefit and may instead display troubling side effects.
In this article, we will discuss whether HGH can slow aging, if it can help older adults, and what its potential side effects are.
Due to the role HGH plays in the human body, its natural decline in older age, and symptoms relating to an HGH deficiency, some individuals believe it may possess anti-aging properties. However, research suggests supplementing HGH does not slow aging and may instead be detrimental to health.
As a 2019 review explains, a person’s body produces less and less HGH as they grow older. With increasing age, a number of psychological and physical changes also take place. Crucially, these changes mirror those experienced by younger people who have an HGH deficiency. They include many changes which people might associate with aging:
- reduction in muscle strength
- reduction in lean body mass
- increase in body fat
- deterioration in memory and cognitive function
- decreasing amounts of deep sleep
- increasing risk of developing sleeping disorders
Researchers in the field remain uncertain about whether the link between these changes and lowering HGH is causal. While that could be a possibility, more research is necessary to understand the potential role of HGH in slowing the aging process. However, current results are disappointing and instead indicate that using HGH in this way may present troublesome side effects.
Due to the possible link between lowering HGH and signs of aging, some individuals are interested in using HGH therapy for this purpose. HGH therapy refers to the supplementation of HGH, typically in people with a deficiency.
Currently, there is no good evidence to support the use of HGH to reduce signs of aging, and a 2021 review notes that age-related decline in HGH does not justify supplementation.
A 2019 review notes that much research on growth hormones and aging has focused on whether growth hormones can promote longevity. The majority of these experiments have been animal studies, with rather mixed results.
For instance, there is some evidence from animal studies to suggest that higher growth hormone levels may decrease some of the processes that comprise aging. However, there is also evidence indicating that higher growth hormone levels decrease longevity.
In some cases, higher growth hormone levels may increase the risk of certain diseases and may cause some conditions, such as cancer, to accelerate.
While it is not advisable for people to take HGH to reduce signs of aging, a doctor may prescribe HGH therapy to help treat certain conditions.
Most significantly, growth hormone injection treatment is an option for children who receive a diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency or other conditions that cause short stature. It can also be a suitable treatment for adults with a growth hormone deficiency.
Additionally, some medical conditions may also benefit from HGH treatment. These can include Turner syndrome, a chromosomal condition that affects females and may result in irregular growth, and kidney failure.
While HGH may not provide any benefit for older adults with adequate levels of HGH, it can benefit individuals with a deficiency or other condition. The benefits of HGH therapy will vary depending on the condition doctors are using it to treat.
For example, symptoms of a growth hormone deficiency can include slow growth, short stature, and a delay in sexual development. As such, using HGH injections, under the supervision of an endocrinologist, can help with development and help support health and fitness.
Researchers are confident that HGH therapy does not have significant adverse effects and does not lower life expectancy when doctors use it to treat children and younger adults. However, there is evidence that older individuals may be at risk of certain health problems if using HGH therapy. These may include:
- fluid retention
- peripheral edema
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- elevated blood glucose and insulin levels
Older people with elevated HGH levels may also be more likely to develop aggressive cancers.
Additionally, high levels of HGH over a long period of time can result in acromegaly, a condition that can cause unusual physical features. Even smaller doses may result in complications such as heart disease and diabetes.
While some signs of aging are similar to symptoms of growth hormone deficiency, current evidence suggests that HGH is not a suitable anti-aging treatment. While more investigation is necessary, research indicates that HGH may offer little benefit for older adults, and instead may lead to troubling side effects.