Welcome back to our weekly diabetes advice column, Ask D'Mine, hosted by veteran type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois in New Mexico. Here, you can ask any and all lifestyle or oddball questions you may not want to ask your doctor. Today, Wil's answering one we definitely haven't heard before. 

{Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com}

 

Big Ike, type 2 from Massachusetts, writes: Hey D’Mine! I’m a person currently living with type 2 diabetes. I’ve been exercising and eating great for the past few months and now I don’t have to take any meds for my diabetes. That’s down from takin’ two shots of insulin plus about four pills of metformin, all of which were prescribed by my doctor. Anywho, I haven’t been on meds for a bit now and I wanna know if takin’ growth hormone and or testosterone will do anything negative to my blood sugar levels. Thanks for your time!

 

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Well, first off, I gotta say: Waaaaaaay to go Big Ike!!! The changes you’ve made in your life are amazing. From shots and met, to foot loose and fancy free, thanks to the miracle “meds” of diet and exercise. That’s awesome. You’ve changed your health destiny. 

Now, on to your questions. Let’s look at testosterone first. Most folks know that testosterone is the “guy hormone.” When you’re growing up, the “T” plays a key role in the development of male sex organs, and it’s also responsible for the basic “guy” look—heavier muscle and bone structure and body hair. 

Cave men clearly had plenty of testosterone.

T begins to decline with age, at the rate of about 1% per year. Unless, of course you’re a man with diabetes. In that case, it more likely that your T will tank. Now there’s some chicken-and-egg argument as to whether the low T helps trigger the Big D or if the Big D helps to trigger the low T. But that’s moot for you.

Genuinely low T has some serious side effects, key among them being insomnia, increased body fat, and low energy. Low T also screws with your brain, resulting in low self-confidence, decreased motivation, and depression. Oh, and it can lead to low sex drive, of course.

You’ll note I said “genuinely” low T. There’s a reason I said that. And that reason is that the folks who sell replacement T products would have us believe that T is the fountain of youth. In fact, they were so successful in selling their products to men who weren’t growing old gracefully that the FDA had to step in and require changes to the product labeling, clarifying that the meds are only to be taken for low T caused by a collection of medical problems loosely assembled under the banner of hypogonadism.

T-replacement products come in many forms: injections, pellets, patches, or gels; and T therapy does, in fact, have an effect on blood sugar. But given that testosterone is a steroid, it’s probably not the effect you’re expecting. Surprise! A number of studies have shown that taking T can actuallylower blood sugar, especially in the long run (some studies of shorter therapy times suggest no improvement). This may be because T is thought to improve insulin sensitivity, or it may simply be that taking T tends to shave off weight, and that, of course, reduces insulin resistance.

So nothing to lose, right?

Wrong.

T therapy is not a free ride; it has risks. If you have the beginnings of prostate cancer, T therapy is like pouring miracle grow on it. Adding testosterone can also trigger sleep apnea, which will make your blood sugar worse. And, if that isn’t enough, T increases the risks of DVT—Deep Vein Thrombosis—those nasty blood clots that travel to the lungs and trigger pulmonary embolisms, which can kill you dead.

My advice? If you just want to feel more studly, skip the T and buy a Corvette. If, on the other hand, your doc has diagnosed you with a medically low level of T, and if you are having symptoms that are having a negative impact on your life, then by all means you should address it, and it shouldn’t give you any worries in the blood sugar department.

Now, on to growth hormone. Like T, growth hormone plays its starring role in childhood, and then tapers off throughout adulthood. Also like T, growth hormone (GH) is twisted like a jungle vine around diabetes with an unclear relationship but a common association.

Of course, there are medical conditions that require therapy with growth hormone, mostly for children who aren’t thriving, or for adults suffering some sort of damage to the pituitary gland. But GH is famous… or infamous… for another use altogether: as a “doping” agent. Yeah, using GH to turn into a super athlete. This practice is banned by the major sports leagues, but is apparently still practiced in some body building circles.

Please tell me, Big Ike, that you aren’t toying with GH to become Bigger Ike. 

Like all meds, GH has side effects, but the main side effects to be concerned about have do with taking too much of it—in other words taking GH when it’s not medically indicted—and these include: carpal tunnel syndrome; edema; joint and muscle pain; high cholesterol; and the swelling of the hands, feet, face, and internal organs called acromegaly.

But to your question. Unlike T, growth hormone is likely to raise blood glucose. In fact, the body’s native growth hormone is one of the collection of counter-regulatory hormones released in response to low blood sugar; and many children treated with GH diabetes.

Of course, I’m talking about medical-grade GH here. You can also buy over-the-counter products that allege to have GH in them. How much hormone do these pills, creams, and sprays really contain? Not much, according to ConsumerLab.com. And then there are the bait-and-switch products called growth hormone “boosters,” simply amino acids that are supposed to boost the body’s natural production of GH. Needless to say, we don’t have any data about how any of these sorts of “supplements” will impact your blood sugar. I suppose it depends on whether the main ingredient is sawdust or honey, more than the trace amounts of GH or amino acids lurking in them. 

Now, given that T can lower blood sugar and GH raises it, if you took both, would it balance out? Possibility, but I doubt it. One would likely overwhelm the other and make a mess of your beautiful blood sugar.

And you’ve worked too hard for that. 

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.