Ask the Doctor: Hormone Works Best on Youth
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have read many fantastic claims for the wonders of human growth hormone.
It doesn’t seem possible that all these claims are true; however, if only a tenth of them are, it might be worth a try.
Please give your opinion of this wonder drug. - L.V.
ANSWER: The small pituitary gland at the base of the brain makes growth hormone.
In children, this hormone does exactly what its name says: It promotes growth.
With aging, the production of growth hormone wanes.
Decreased growth hormone might contribute to the muscle wasting, fat accumulation and bone weakening that are the fate of older people.
That theoretical speculation gave rise to the idea of supplying older folks with the hormone.
Carefully controlled studies did show a drop in body fat and an increase in muscle size in treated elderly people.
However, no increase in muscle strength, physical performance or quality of life could be demonstrated.
Furthermore, growth hormone’s side effects include fluid retention, swelling, joint and muscle pain, loss of the body’s response to insulin, and a loss of blood sugar control.
Growth hormone has been used by professional athletes for the same reasons steroids (male hormones) are used.
Often it is used in combination with steroids.
In young, active men and women, growth hormone fails to enhance athletic performance.
It can, however, increase sprinting capacity.
The hormone has a place in treating children who lack it or to spur the growth of carefully selected children lagging far being their peers.
Most experts do not recommend it for older adults looking for a potion that restores youth.