Growth hormone not safe or effective in slowing aging, reports Harvard Men's Health Watch

More and more men are turning to human growth hormone in hopes of slowing the tick of their bodies' clocks. Some men are motivated by the claims of the anti-aging movement, others by examples of young athletes seeking a competitive edge. But does growth hormone actually boost performance or slow aging? And is it safe? Not really, reports the May 2010 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Among its many biological effects, human growth hormone helps increase muscle mass and reduce body fat. As men age, their levels of the hormone fall. During the same time span, muscle mass declines and body fat increases. In hopes of reversing this aging-related physical decline, some theorists suggest taking injections of human growth hormone. However, the FDA has not approved human growth hormone for anti-aging treatment or athletic enhancement, and it is illegal to market or distribute the hormone for these purposes.

To evaluate the safety and efficacy of human growth hormone in healthy older people, researchers reviewed 31 studies that were completed since 1989. Individuals treated with the hormone gained 4.6 pounds of lean body mass and shed a similar amount of body fat. Injections of the hormone led to a slight drop in total cholesterol levels, but no significant changes in LDL or HDL cholesterol levels, triglycerides, aerobic capacity, bone density, or fasting blood sugar and insulin levels. On the flip side, study participants who received human growth hormone experienced a high rate of side effects, including fluid retention, joint pain, breast enlargement, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

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