The pituitary gland releases GH in bursts, and levels rise in response to exercise, trauma, and sleep. GH is produced more at night than during the day in normal circumstances. Although this physiology is complex, it tells us that sporadic blood tests to measure GH levels are useless because high and low levels alternate throughout the day. Overall GH production, however, rises during childhood, peaks during puberty, and then decline from middle age onwards, according to scientists who carefully measure it.

GH has a wide variety of impacts on the tissues of the body. It promotes bone and cartilage growth in children and adolescents. GH increases protein production, promotes fat utilization, interferes with insulin action, and raises blood sugar levels in people of all ages. Insulin-like growth factor-1 levels are also raised by GH (IGF-1).

Human growth hormone benefits

GH is a prescription drug that must be administered via injection. Children with GH deficiency and others with short stature should make GH. It’s also approved to treat adult GH deficiency, which is a rare condition that almost always occurs in the context of major problems with the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, or both. Adult GH deficiency is diagnosed using special tests that stimulate HGH production; simple blood tests are ineffective at best and can be misleading at worst.

HGH injections are beneficial to adults who have genuine GH deficiencies. They benefit from fracture protection, increased muscle mass, increased exercise capacity and energy, and a lower risk of heart disease in the future. However, there is a cost. Fluid retention, joint and muscle pain, carpal tunnel syndrome (pressure on the nerve in the wrist causing hand pain and numbness), and high blood sugar levels are among the side effects experienced by up to 30% of patients.

HGH doping and athletic performance

Adults with GH deficiency benefit from replacement therapy, which results in larger muscles, increased energy, and improved exercise capacity. Athletes put in a lot of effort to bulk up and improve their performance. Some people use GH as well.

This isn’t a one-off issue. GH abuse has tainted many sports, including baseball, cycling, and track and field, despite being banned by the International Olympic Committee, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Abusing GH in competitive sports can lead to disqualification and embarrassment. 

What do they get in exchange? Do they also put their health at risk?

Scientists have been unable to evaluate GH on the field because it is prohibited and athletic performance is dependent on so many physical, psychological, and competitive factors. They can, however, conduct randomized clinical trials in which healthy young athletes are given GH or a placebo and their body composition, strength, and exercise capacity are measured in the lab.

A group of California researchers conducted a thorough review of 44 high-quality studies on growth hormone in athletes. The participants were young (average age 27), lean (average BMI 24), and physically fit, with 85 percent of them being men. GH injections were given to 303 volunteers, while placebo injections were given to 137.

The subjects who received GH increased their lean body mass (which reflects muscle mass but can also include fluid mass) by an average of 4.6 pounds after receiving daily injections for an average of 20 days. That’s a significant increase, but it didn’t translate into better performance. In fact, there were no discernible improvements in strength or exercise capacity after taking GH. In addition, the volunteers who received GH were more likely to retain fluid and experience fatigue than those who received a placebo.

If you were a high school or college athlete, you probably remember your coach yelling “no pain, no gain” to motivate you.

Athletes who use illegal performance-enhancing drugs today risk being disqualified without any proof of benefit.

Human growth hormone and aging

A team of researchers reviewed 31 high-quality studies completed after 1989 to assess the safety and efficacy of GH in healthy older people. Each study was small, but they combined to evaluate 220 people who received GH and 227 people who did not receive the hormone. The men made up two-thirds of the participants; the average age was 69, and the average volunteer was overweight but not obese.

The dose of GH used varied widely, as did the length of treatment, which ranged from two to 52 weeks. Despite this, the various doses were able to increase IGF-1 levels by 88 percent, which reflects GH levels.

The subjects who received GH gained an average of 4.6 pounds of lean body mass and lost a similar amount of body fat as those who did not receive GH. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, triglycerides, aerobic capacity, bone density, and fasting blood sugar and insulin levels did not change significantly. Fluid retention, joint pain, breast enlargement, and carpal tunnel syndrome were among the many side effects experienced by GH recipients. Although the studies were too short to detect any change in cancer risk, other research suggests a higher risk of cancer in general and prostate cancer in particular.

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