The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Human Growth Hormone

Actor Sylvester Stallone made news this week for being found with the drug Jintropin. Jintropin is a brand name for the drug growth hormone (GH).

Growth hormone is naturally made in the pituitary gland of your brain. It does several things, including stimulating protein to make muscle. Various bodybuilders and athletes get injections of synthetic growth hormone hoping to get bigger. Actors and models use growth hormone injections to look more muscular and lean, and some cosmetic procedure doctors promote it as a drug against various signs of aging. Growth hormone use is not yet detectable by drug testing.

In children, one function of growth hormone is to stimulate bone lengthening. When the pituitary doesn't produce enough, children don't grow enough, causing one form of dwarfism. Occasionally, with too much, a child can grow to a giant. An adult taking growth hormone will not increase long bone length, so cannot get taller. Instead the forehead, hands, feet, and jaw may elongate.

Growth hormone "doping" is expensive, and must be done for a long time before results occur. For bigger results, some bodybuilders and athletes combine, or "stack," growth hormones with anabolic steroids (body building hormones). Some users add the dangerous practice of injecting insulin in combination with growth hormone (and/or steroids) for bigger muscles, more veins showing, and the appearance of exceptionally thin skin, looking as if shrink-wrapped over the muscle (believed a desirable look by some). Insulin doping can cause serious, long-term illnesses.

Growth hormone use does not seem to cause the serious health problems produced by steroids (as far as known). Problems from GH can include joint pain, wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, joint swelling, facial swelling, facial elongation, and increased blood pressure. Using large doses can decrease thyroid function and increase risk of diabetes. Sadly, users may think these are signs of aging, so they take more growth hormone believing it will stop this "aging." If the user already has cancer, it can increase growth of the tumor. Growth is what this hormone does. There is no need for too much of it.

Growth hormone is naturally produced in your body all your life. Older people produce less growth hormone, but they still produce it. Some advertising for GH tries to persuade that older people are somehow at a disadvantage without a lot. Remember that older people (above the age range of puberty) need less because they are not growing, although they still need enough for strength and tissue repair.

Aging alone is not what makes you not have enough growth hormone. Four main practices reduce your body's levels:

  • Lack of exercise. That makes sense, because without exercise your muscles, bones, and other tissues have no reason to rebuild; you aren't using them, after all.
  • High blood sugar from dietary sources - such as eating too much and eating junk food.
  • Already high levels. Your body reduces its growth hormone levels if it already has too much. Growth hormone stimulates your liver and other tissues to secrete "insulin-like growth factor-I" (IGF-I), which is the real factor behind most of the effects of growth hormone. Having high blood levels of IGF-I decreases secretion of growth hormone as a normal regulatory function.
  • Anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressive medicines called glucocorticoids (such as prednisone, dexamethasone, and hydrocortisone). Ongoing dosage with these can lead to osteoporosis, muscle weakness, delayed wound healing, and increased infection risk. This should be kept in mind by people taking them for injuries and pain.

How do you get more natural growth hormone in healthy amounts without side effects? Three main agents stimulate GH secretion:

  • Exercise. Getting exercise in healthful ways, described throughout Fitness Fixer blog posts, boosts GH at all ages.
  • Deep sleep. With good exercise, you will sleep well at night too.
  • Low levels of sugar in your blood. It is shown that both high fat and high refined-sugar diets increase blood sugar. It is not rocket science to eat less junk and more fruit and vegetables to be healthier and to lower high blood sugar.

Related Fitness Fixer:
There is more to growth, metabolizing fat, or building muscle than taking hormones. Click these posts on safe "natural" training for a healthy muscular body:


Coming Next: Rocky IV and Healthier Exercise.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.