Keeping Your Growth Hormone “Fountain of Youth” Running
By: David A Fein, MD
It has been called the body’s “Fountain of Youth”: a hormone that helps you lose fat, gain muscle mass, increase bone density, and maybe even improve your energy and sex life. It’s Human Growth Hormone (HGH). As we get older, the levels of HGH in our blood gradually decline. While numerous online website offer products they claim will raise your HGH levels or will even sell you HGH injections, these products are controversial at best. Concerns about the safety and effectiveness of HGH supplements may be well-founded. While using HGH itself is potentially dangerous, there are some strategies you can use to naturally support your body’s production of HGH that may help to keep you looking and feeling younger.
HGH is secreted from the pituitary gland, a very small gland at the base of the brain. In childhood, it is important for maintaining growth and HGH deficiencies can cause short stature. HGH deficiency can also occur in adults and is associated with increased visceral fat, diabetes, loss of bone density and decreased energy.
As we age the level of HGH gradually declines, leading some researchers to postulate that supplementing HGH levels will help to maintain the vitality of our younger years. Some research studies appear to provide support for the idea. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1990 treated a small group of men over 60 and found that HGH caused significant increases in muscle mass and bone density. Another study published in 2007 showed that elderly patients given HGH gained about 4 lbs of muscle mass and lost a comparable amount of fat. However, there was no improvement in fitness levels and it may be that HGH only caused an increase in the amount of water weight in their muscles.
On the other side of the story, artificially increasing your HGH levels may have some serious side effects. Elevated levels are associated with increased risk of diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome and possibly colon or prostate cancer. Adults who develop benign tumors that over-secrete HGH can develop Acromegaly, a condition causing abnormal bone growth and other complications.
The patients in these studies were given HGH by injection. (The hormone is not useful when taken orally as digestion destroys it.) HGH is available as a legal drug to treat documented deficiencies, particularly in children. However, a Google search for HGH easily finds numerous clinics and online pharmacies that will prescribe HGH as an antidote to aging.
The problem with this strategy is that natural HGH production and the way it is used in your body is a complex process. HGH is carried in the blood attached to various carrier proteins. The levels of these carrier proteins may have a role in how HGH affects various body functions. HGH given by injection without the body compensating for the higher levels with an increase in those carrier proteins may substantially alter the effects of HGH. The secretion of HGH by the pituitary varies throughout the day and night. HGH injections are not able to mimic those normal and essential variations in the HGH levels. So, HGH injections at this point remain an unproven and potentially dangerous approach to slowing the aging process.
But there are some simple strategies that may help you to boost your natural production of HGH. Keeping your levels higher with these strategies allow for the body’s normal HGH secretion rhythms and carrier protein production.
Most of your HGH production will normally occur during sleep. Consequently, sleep deprivation leads to lower HGH levels. Many of use sleep as our “time bank”. When we don’t have time to get all the things done that we want to cram into our day, we get the extra time by sleeping less. In the short term, we can get away with this. In the longer term, the evidence of the dangers of inadequate sleep continues to accumulate. Getting enough sleep keeps you thinner, younger and feeling better.
HGH plays a role in the regulation of blood sugar. HGH secretion is inhibited when your blood sugar goes up. So, a diet that is high in carbohydrates, especially if those carbohydrates are eaten just before sleeping, will suppress HGH production. It may not be an “old wives’ tale” that eating before bed makes you fatter. Those bedtime snacks will suppress your HGH levels and, in the long run, that could play a role in promoting weight gain. If you really need to eat before bedtime, try to pick something that is a low carb snack.
There is evidence to suggest that certain amino acids play a role in stimulating the pituitary gland to increase the production of HGH. Arginine and glutamine may be the most effective at increasing HGH secretion. These amino acids are a normal part of our diet and supplementing them is generally benign. Various over-the-counter supplements are available with both of these amino acids in the same capsule. Taken at bedtime, these may help to increase HGH output during the night.
While the evidence remains controversial about the benefits of HGH injections, these simple steps may help to support your body’s own production of this hormone in a safer way and lessen the decline of this important hormone comes with age.