Hot Flashes Synthetic Growth Hormone: Use and Misuse
Elaine Cunanan, MD, FPCp, DPSEM
What is growth hormone?
Growth hormone (GH) is a substance that is naturally found in our body. It is secreted by a part of our brain called the pituitary gland. It stimulates growth of bone, muscle and cartilage. It is produced throughout a person’s lifetime but is more abundant during youth. GH helps children grow taller. In both children and adults, it plays an important role in metabolism – the process by which our body converts food into energy. If children or adults have too much or too little GH, they may have health problems. In the past, the only source of GH was human corpses. GH was processed from pituitary glands removed from cadaveric brains. However, some patients who were using GH from cadaveric brains developed a fatal brain illness called Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, a condition similar to mad cow disease. Production of GH from cadaveric brains was eventually stopped. Thanks to genetic engineering, synthetic or manufactured GH can now be made in unlimited quantities in the laboratory.
What are the uses of synthetic GH?
Synthetic GH comes in injectable forms. You need a doctor’s prescription to procure synthetic GH.
In children, it is only approved for treating:
• Growth hormone deficiency (too little growth hormone)
• Conditions that lead to short stature (being shorter than children of the same age), such as chronic kidney disease, Turner syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome
In adults, GH is only approved for use in:
• Growth hormone deficiency
• Muscle wasting (loss of muscle tissue) from AIDS
How is growth hormone misused?
People sometimes take synthetic GH to improve athletic performance or reverse the effects of aging. Some athletes illegally inject themselves with GH in an effort to build muscle, increase strength, and decrease body fat. Its use in sports was banned in 1989 by the International Olympic Committee.
GH pills or GH-releasing pills claiming anti-aging properties are also being sold over the internet. There is currently no evidence that these substances fight aging, increase muscle, or provide other benefits. GH has no effect if it is taken as a pill because it is destroyed by stomach acid during digestion.
What are the potential harmful side effects of synthetic GH?
Possible side effects of synthetic GH when used short-term include joint and muscle pain, and fluid build-up. If GH is injected with shared needles, people may be get AIDS or hepatitis. Taking high doses of GH over a longer period may lead to heart disease. There is also an increased risk of cancers due to stimulation of abnormal growth of cells. GH sold illegally may contain potentially harmful ingredients.
• Take-home messages
• Synthetic GH is safe and effective when used appropriately and under a doctor’s supervision.
• Misuse and abuse of GH can have serious harmful effects.
• If you’re worried about GH deficiency, consult an endocrinologist.
www.hormone.org www.medlineplus.gov AACE medical guidelines for clinical practice for growth hormone use in adults and children – 2003 update. Endocrine Practice. Vol 9 NO.1
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