Of all the substances with potential anti-aging properties, none has aroused such widespread excitement or generated such widespread controversy as Human Growth Hormone. Secreted by the pituitary gland, human growth hormone (also known as hGH or somatotropin) was shown in a widely reported 1990 study by Daniel Rudman, M.D., and his colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin to trim fat, build muscle and improve skin tone in a dozen elderly men. In the wake of Rudman’s report, headlines around the country trumpeted hGH as a rejuvenator and age-reverser. Since then, medical journals around the world have bulged with new reports of hGH’s many potential benefits, including the possibility that it may help the body fight off infectious diseases and cancer.
Of the many animal experiments using hGH, perhaps the most exciting has been a 1991 study by Michael Torosian, M.D., and Robert Donoway, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, in which hGH significantly slowed the spread of lung cancer in rats. The researchers now hope to apply for permission to do human tests.
In addition to hGH’s ability to trim fat and increase muscle mass, newer studies are beginning to show that it may play an important role in combating age-related diseases. In 1991, a team led by Christian Wiedermann of the University of Innsbruck Medical School in Austria reported that hGH had stimulated the functioning of polymorphonuclear neutrophils, immune-system cells that fight off bacterial infections. (Age-related declines in the activity of these cells leave older people more vulnerable to infectious diseases.) In 1992, Fran Kaiser, M.D., of the St. Louis University School of Medicine reported that injections of synthetic growth hormone stimulated appetite, induced weight gain and increased muscle mass in five elderly patients who were suffering from chronic malnutrition. Since other studies have shown that up to 65 percent of older people in hospitals and nursing homes may be malnourished, Kaiser suggests that hGH be further considered and tested as a possible treatment for age-related malnutrition.
Taking large doses of hGH may result in acromegaly, a condition in which the bones of the face are grotesquely enlarged, and which has been associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Some experts fear that hGH may stimulate tumor growth in people with cancer, although this has not been scientifically established.
Human growth hormone is approved by the FDA for the physician-supervised treatment of unusually short children, meaning that it is available by doctor’s prescription. Because of its muscle-building propensities, hGH is in considerable demand among athletes, many of whom consider it a legal and relatively safe alternative to anabolic steroids.