HGH therapy is FDA approved for HGH deficiency due to pituitary tumors. It is also approved for muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS. However, it is not FDA approved for anti-aging, nor is it considered safe by the vast majority of the medical community to use for this purpose.
While studies show that HGH therapy can positively alter body composition (by increasing muscle and decreasing fat), these same studies report significant adverse side effects. In addition to these side effects, other concerns also exist. (HGH Side Effects)
These other concerns include the following: 1) the limited scale of studies and lack of convincing positive health outcomes, and 2) the unknown long-term link between HGH therapy and cancer. Understanding these concerns provides an explanation as to why the medical community remains highly cautious about recommending HGH treatment for healthy individuals without growth hormone deficiency.
Is HGH Safe?
The Following List Provides the Main Concerns with HGH Therapy1-19
- Adverse Side Effects – Despite the positive effects of GH on body composition, HGH therapy may cause one or more of several common side effects. These side effects including gynecomastia, carpel tunnel syndrome, joint pain, edema, and impaired glucose tolerance. The possibility of side effects raises the question of whether or not the benefits of HGH therapy for healthy individuals outweigh the costs.
- Limited Scale of Studies and Lack of Convincing Positive Health Outcomes – Aside from its side effects, the primary concern with GH therapy for healthy men without growth hormone deficiency is the lack of long-term studies evaluating its safety and efficacy. Most currently available studies are limited to six months or less in length with few participants. This short duration is not long enough to fully assess the long-term safety and efficacy of such a treatment.
Additionally, while GH therapy has been shown to improve body composition, there is a lack of evidence that these changes lead to meaningful functional changes, such as increased muscle strength or power, increased aerobic endurance, or increased physical function. In the context of cost-benefit considerations, demonstrating that GH therapy improves these or other functional elements would provide compelling evidence for use of GH replacement therapy in men without GH deficiency. Unfortunately, such evidence does not exist at this time.
- Unknown Long-Term Link Between GH Therapy and Cancer – At this time, it is not known whether GH replacement in older people with age-related decreases in GH secretion increases the risk for cancer or other diseases.
As stated above, there are no currently available long-term studies large enough to clearly define the association between GH therapy and cancer.16,17 Nevertheless, some data does exist on cancer incidence in adults with GH deficiency treated with GH in the form of the Pfizer international metabolic database (KIMS). This data, although constrained by short follow-up periods, does not show a higher than expected risk of cancer in people treated with GH therapy when compared with the risk of cancer in the general population.18
Despite the fact that no definitive evidence exists to show that GH increases the risk for cancer, serious concerns still remain. These concerns remain because elevated IGF-1 levels have been associated with an increased cancer risk. Growth hormone is converted into IGF-1 by the liver. Thus, administration of exogenous GH increases IGF-1 levels. Studies have show that the risk for prostate cancer is increased in men with IGF-1 levels in the highest quartile.19 The results of these small studies certainly do not confirm that GH therapy is associated with cancer but does highlight the need for further long-term investigation.
One current study may address key questions in this area. The study is the long-term Safety of Recombinant Growth Hormone in Europe (SaGhE) study. It is currently evaluating the cancer incidence in approximately 30,000 European adults treated with GH therapy.
- Diagnosing, Dosing, and Monitoring Guidelines Have Not Been Fully Established – A set of best-practice guidelines has yet to be fully established for HGH therapy in men with age-related GH decreases but without deficiency. Without these guidelines, physicians are frequently reluctant to diagnose and initiate therapy.
EMG’s HGH Homepage: Human Growth Hormone
External Resources: WebMD: Is HGH Safe? Safety Information
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2. Rudman D, Feller AG, Nagraj HS, et al. Effects of human growth hormone in men over 60 years old. N Engl J Med. Jul 1990; 323 (1): 1-6.
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10. Lange KH, Andersen JL, Beyer N, et al. GH administration changes myosin heavy chain isoforms in skeletal muscle but does not augment muscle strength or hypertrophy, either alone or combined with resistance exercise training in healthy elderly men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Feb 2002; 87 (2): 513-523.
11. Yuen K, Wareham N, Frystyk J, et al. Short-term low-dose growth hormone administration in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance and the metabolic syndrome: effects on beta-cell function and post-load glucose tolerance. Eur J Endocrinol. Jul 2004; 151 (1): 39-45.
12. Münzer T, Harman SM, Hees P, et al. Effects of GH and/or sex steroid administration on abdominal subcutaneous and visceral fat in healthy aged women and men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Aug 2001; 86 (8): 3604-3610.
13. Papadakis MA, Grady D, Black D, et al. Growth hormone replacement in healthy older men improves body composition but not functional ability. Ann Intern Med. Apr 1996; 124 (8): 708-716.
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17. Clayton PE, Banerjee I, Murray PG, Renehan AG. Growth hormone, the insulin-like growth factor axis, insulin and cancer risk. Nat Rev Endocrinol. Jan 2011; 7 (1): 11-24.
18. Svensson J, Bengtsson BA. Is HGH Safe? Safety aspects of GH replacement. Eur J Endocrinol. Nov 2009; 161 Suppl 1: S65-74.
19. Chan JM, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci E, et al. Plasma insulin-like growth factor-I and prostate cancer risk: a prospective study. Science. Jan 1998; 279 (5350): 563-566.