Friday, August 1, 2014

Growth Hormone Schemes and Scams by Stephen Barrett M.D.

This older article at Quackwatch is still very relevant today

Growth Hormone Schemes and Scams

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Human growth hormone (HGH) is a substance secreted by the pituitary gland that promotes growth during childhood and adolescence. Growth hormone acts on the liver and other tissues to stimulate production of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), which is responsible for the growth-promoting effects of growth hormone and also reflects the amount produced. Blood levels of circulating IGF-I tend to decrease as people age or become obese [1]. Many marketers would like you to believe that boosting HGH blood levels can reduce body fat; build muscle; improve sex life, sleep quality, vision and memory; restore hair growth and color; strengthen the immune system; normalize blood sugar; increase energy; and "turn back your body's biological clock." This article traces the history of these claims and why you should disregard them.

Marketing "Milestones"

The drive to popularize growth hormone began about 20 years ago with publication of the book Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach, by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw [2]. The book's central premise was large amounts of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and and other substances would cause people to add muscle, burn fat, and live much longer. Although their advice had no scientific basis [3,4], Pearson and Shaw made hundreds of talk-show appearances that boosted sales of the substances they recommended.
Soon after the book's publication, many amino acid products were claimed to cause overnight weight loss by increasing the release of growth hormone. So called "growth-hormone releasers" were also marketed to bodybuilders with claims that they would help build muscle. Such claims are unfounded because amino acids taken by mouth do not stimulate growth hormone release. These formulations are based mainly on misinterpreted studies of intravenous arginine, which can increase HGH blood levels for an hour or so. Taking it by mouth has no such effect. The FTC [5-9], and the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs [10] attacked some companies making "growth-hormone release" claims, but these actions had very little effect on the overall marketplace.
In 1990, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that attracted mainstream media attention. The study involved 12 men, aged 61 to 81, who were apparently healthy but had IGF-I levels below those found in normal young men. The 12 men were given growth hormone injections three times a week for six months and compared with 9 men who received no treatment. The treatment resulted in a decrease in adipose (fatty) tissue and increases in lean body (muscle) mass and lumbar spine density [11]. An accompanying editorial warned that some of the subjects had experienced side effects and that the long-range effects of administering HGH to healthy adults were unknown. It also warned that the hormone shots were expensive and that the study had not examined whether the men who received the hormone had substantially improved their muscle strength, mobility, or quality of life [1].
Despite the warning, the study inspired many offbeat physicians to market themselves as "anti-aging specialists." Many such physicians offer expensive tests that supposedly determine the patient's "biological age," which they promise to lower with expensive hormone shots and dietary supplements. In 2001, NBC's Dateline showed what happened when a 57-year-old woman visited a Cenegenics clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she underwent $1,500 worth of tests and was offered a hormone and 40-pill-a-day supplement program that would cost $1,500 a month. She was told that although she tested at "age 54,"her hormone levels were "sub-optimal" and that optimal would be the level of a 30-year -old [12].
The 1990 article also helped stimulate formation of the American Association for Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) and the unrecognized medical specialty of "anti-aging medicine." The group, founded in 1993. states that it has 11,500 members, of whom 80% are medical or osteopathic physicians [13]. Many exhibitors at its conferences have made questionable claims for HGH-related products.
The Internet has added another dimension to the HGH marketplace. Thousands of Web sites and spam e-mailers are hawking the actual hormone; alleged HGH releasers; alleged oral hormone products (which can't work because any HGH would be digested); and/or "homeopathic HGH" products.

Caution Needed

HGH is useful for treating growth hormone deficiency in children and adults and has several other proven (FDA-approved) uses [11]. But the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists has warned that the clinical use of growth hormone as an anti-aging treatment or for patients with ordinary obesity is not recommended [14].
Robert N. Butler, M.D., the noted gerontologist who founded and heads the International Longevity Center-USA has warned that, "So-called anti-aging medicine is largely a sham. We simply do not have the equivalent of a blood pressure cuff for testing aging." He further states:

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