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Growth Hormone
The Fountain of Youth or Lethal Injection?

By Tom Venuto - author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle

Human growth hormone (GH) is a complex molecule produced by the pituitary gland and made up of 191 amino acids. GH is responsible for stimulating body tissues to grow and has powerful lipolytic (fat burning) and anabolic (muscle building) properties. Natural GH levels peak at physical maturity, although you continue to produce it in smaller amounts through adulthood, mostly during deep sleep. It is believed that this drop in GH levels as you age is partly responsible for the deterioration in body composition, strength, health and immune function that normally occurs as you get older.

In the 1950's GH injections began being successfully given to children who were suffering from stunted growth as a result of GH deficiency. At the time, the only way to get GH was to "farm" it from the pituitary glands of cadavers. When a few people died from Creutzfeld-Jakob disease because the supply of cadaver-derived GH became contaminated, the FDA pulled GH off the market. At this point, all the pharmaceutical companies entered the race to produce synthetic growth hormone. In 1990, Eli Lilly succeeded, and Humatrope, the brand name for synthetic human growth hormone, was released as a prescription drug.

When people in the bodybuilding, fitness and "life extension" business talk about GH, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to whether we are talking about:

A) The GH naturally produced in your body by the pituitary gland,
B) Synthetic GH (which is a prescription drug that is illegal and banned in athletic competition and bodybuilding), or
C) Supplements that allegedly cause your body to release more of it's own GH naturally.

We've already talked about the real thing, as it is produced by your body, so let's look at the facts about GH releasing supplements and synthetic GH injections:

Today the magazines and the Internet are full of ads for products that supposedly mimic GH, contain GH, or cause your body to release more of it's own GH. If you do a Yahoo search for "Growth Hormone," "Growth Hormone releasers," or "Human Growth Hormone," you'll find thousands of web pages hawking a variety of GH products. These "GH precursors" and GH releasers" include amino acids, secretagogues, GABA, herbs, homeopathic formulas, sprays, tablets, powders, capsules and many others.

The concept of taking natural supplements to make your body release more GH is not new. Decades ago, "life extensionists" were ardently promoting the use of the amino acids arginine and ornithine as GH releasers, but the evidence was taken completely out of context.

The recommendation for taking oral arginine was based on studies examining the effects of intravenously injected arginine. It is well known that certain amino acids, when injected directly into the bloodstream, are potent stimulators of growth hormone release. When taken orally, the amino acids are degraded by the digestive tract and never reach the pituitary intact. It is likely that nearly any GH supplement taken orally will suffer the same fate.

There is very little scientific evidence that any of these "GH releasers" will increase muscle growth, decrease body fat, or increase youthfulness and vitality. The advertisements are long on marketing hype and short on science. They capitalize on the whirl of publicity that surrounds the potential benefits of injectable synthetic GH, because few people know the difference. Quite simply, some people are taking GH supplements and thinking they are taking real GH.

Although the claims for injectable GH seem almost too good to be true, injectable synthetic growth hormone really does work. In a 1990 double-blind, placebo controlled study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, test subjects increased lean body mass by 8.8% and decreased body fat by 14.4%. Not only that, but according to Daniel Rudman and his colleagues who published the study, the subjects experienced the equivalent of becoming ten to twenty years younger!

The media jumped all over this story, proclaiming that the "fountain of youth" had been discovered. Sounds great at first, but unfortunately, all drugs have side effects. Any positive results that come from GH therapy are likely to be outweighed by the possible side effects and long term risks of taking a synthetic drug. Sports nutritionist Dr. Michael Colgan, writing in "Optimum Sports Nutrition," said that the he believes the downside of GH use is "worse than for steroids."

This "downside" stems from the fact that when synthetic hormones are introduced, your body may decrease or shut down it's own natural production of these hormones. If you take them for a long time and then stop, your body doesn't resume its normal hormone production level. There is a lag time before you get back to normal. In the worst-case scenario, you lose the capability of making the natural hormone completely and you're stuck taking the artificial stuff for life.

For every artificial peak you create, there MUST be a valley of equal or greater magnitude. This is true of steroids, GH and virtually every drug known to man. If you've ever seen anyone come off of steroids cold turkey, you know exactly what I'm talking about. After cessation of artificial testosterone (steroids) you end up in a testosterone shortage. The results are not pretty. The same is true of GH therapy - when you come off, you can end up in a GH shortage.

In the short time that synthetic GH has been available, we already know that the side effects of GH use include gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in males), carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain, fluid retention and high blood pressure.

In the book "Biomarkers," anti-aging expert Dr. William Evans also pointed out that in the 1990 study on GH, the researchers did not distinguish between the types of lean-body tissue that was gained: "The increase in lean body mass could have been in such tissue as the liver and other organs. This type of change is not the beneficial muscle and strength increase we're after."

Simply put, GH makes everything grow. Bodybuilders who use large amounts of GH develop huge muscle mass, but they may also develop distended bellies from enlarged intestines, and disfigured faces from bone growth, also known as "Neanderthal face" or Cro Magnon forehead." Evans concludes, "There are just too many questions yet to be answered before we can recommend the widespread use of growth hormone."

No one really knows what this stuff will do to you in the long run because it has only been a short time since recombinant DNA technology has allowed GH to be produced in a lab. It has been suggested that synthetic GH could even be a contributing factor in developing cancer and diabetes. And if all of the preceding hasn't discouraged you, a year's supply of GH could cost as much as $20,000.

Enhancing Growth Hormone release would be a great thing if you could achieve it through natural means. The good news is that this is possible through proper nutrition and training. This can be accomplished by the following:

1. Performing short, high intensity workouts lasting only 40 -60 minutes.
2. Double splitting your weight training. Do two short sessions (i.e. chest in the morning and triceps in the evening) lasting about 30 to 45 minutes each instead of one long workout.
3. Progressively increasing workout intensity, but not duration.
4. Allowing sufficient recovery time between workouts (do not lift more than two days in a row).
5. Getting eight hours of sound, uninterrupted sleep (or whatever amount you've found keeps you rested and recovered).
6. Taking a 30-60 minute nap whenever possible.
7. Using basic, multi-joint exercises like Squats, deadlifts and rows. A 20-rep squat cycle will release growth hormone naturally and get you growing like no supplements ever will.
8. Keeping alcohol intake to a minimum or not drinking at all.
9 Avoiding refined sugars. Focusing on natural starchy and fibrous carbohydrates.
10. Consuming lean proteins at frequent intervals throughout the day.
11. Getting adequate amounts of the "good fats."
12. Getting lean and stay lean.
13. Avoiding stress and relaxing.

Nothing rejuvenates like good nutrition, drug free training and a stress-free, positive, happy outlook on life. If living a long, healthy life is what you want, then stay away from GH and other drugs and do it the natural way!

Some brief articles of interest:

Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Site
Growth Hormone Releasing Supplements - You Don't Need Them

US Berkeley Wellness letter Guide to Nutritional Supplements
Beware of claims that human growth hormone or related products will help keep you young

Supplement watch
Serious medical conditions can result from using HGH when your don't need it


Author Tom Venuto

Tom Venuto is a bodybuilder, gym owner, freelance writer, success coach and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 150 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here.

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