Exploring the Benefits and Risks of HGH with Dr. Hussein Ghanem
It’s not a new thing. In fact, the search for an elixir or magic potion to ward off the physical effects of ageing is an eternal human quest. A new warrior in the battle against signs of ageing is HGH. HGH has been getting a lot of attention recently, so we chatted with leading dermatologist and andrologist Dr. Hussein Ghanem, to get the facts.
CWM: Dr. Hussein, what is HGH?
HG: Growth hormone is important for growth in childhood and helps throughout life to maintain healthy tissues and organs. It’s produced by the pituitary gland that is located at the base of the brain. Production of growth hormone declines gradually starting middle age, which prompted some anti-ageing physicians to consider it as an anti-ageing treatment. It’s also important to remember that exercise is a potent physiological stimulus of GH secretion.
Why has this treatment become so popular now?
Media, internet sites and a few anti-ageing physicians popularized the point of view that replacement of HGH as its levels decrease with aging would help restore and preserve the declining muscle tone and bone mass. However, the majority of medical professionals remain skeptical, HGH is not approved by the FDA as an anti-ageing treatment, actually some concerns have been raised about its safety.
How long has HGH been in use?
Growth hormone was purified and synthesized in 1981 for use in growth hormone deficiency in children. It wasn’t long before it began being abused by competitors in sports around 1982, and several regulatory authorities have now banned it. Considerable research and development have been carried out and in 2005, and more advanced forms of (recombinant HGH) became available.
What conditions is HGH most commonly used for?
Solid medical indications for HGH use are mainly in children, where it’s prescribed for the treatment of growth hormone deficiency, short stature, and in boys and girls with certain congenital defects that could hamper growth, as well as acquired disorders like kidney failure.
Medical indications for the use of HGH include disorders like Short Bowel Syndrome, a condition in which nutrients are not properly absorbed due to severe intestinal disease or the surgical removal of a large portion of the small intestine, pituitary gland tumors leading to HGH deficiency, and loss of muscle associated with HIV/AIDS infection.
Expected benefits for adults who use HGH for a medical indication associated with HGH deficiency include: increased exercise capacity, increased bone density, increased muscle mass, and a decrease in body fat.
What are the new scientific methods used within HGH?
Studies of healthy adults taking human growth hormone are limited. Although it appears that human growth hormone can increase muscle mass and reduce the amount of body fat in healthy older adults, the increase in muscle doesn’t translate into increased strength. It isn’t clear if human growth hormone might provide other benefits to healthy adults.
In an ongoing study of very old people, those in their 90s with naturally low levels of human growth hormone appear to have a far better chance of living into their 100s compared with people who have above-average levels of the hormone
When used as an anti-ageing treatment what benefits can be expected?
Proposed benefits for HGH (that have not obtained FDA approval due to insufficient scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness in normal adults without HGH deficiency) include: increased muscle strength, better fracture healing, enhanced weight loss, stronger bones, reduced cardiovascular disease risk, improvement in erectile dysfunction, decreased obesity, better mood and cognitive function, and improved sleep.
How is the treatment administered?
HGH is given in the form of daily intramuscular injections.
What side effects are possible?
There are several side effects that have been clearly exhibited and linked to HGH treatment. These include, but are not limited to: high cholesterol levels, carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling due to fluid in the body tissues (edema), and nerve, muscle, or joint pain. Enlargement of breast tissue (gynecomastia) has been noted, particularly in men. There is an increased risk of diabetes and cancerous tumors (Hodgkin’s lymphoma), and people have complained of numbness and tingling of the skin.
Are there any contra-indications?
Any allergy to HGH, and young men and women who already have normal levels of HGH.
Is it suitable for everyone?
The only agreement is on its use in cases with HGH deficiency, it’s not advisable for use by young adults, and its use as an anti-ageing medicine is controversial.
Can HGH be used for women?
Studies have shown that women have almost double the amount of growth hormone compared to men. One can assume that it wouldn’t be wise to give HGH to women who already have higher HGH levels. This might be surprising. How come men who are bigger and stronger than women have less growth hormone? The answer is simple; men have testosterone levels that are hundreds of times higher than women.
What’s the bottom line?
If you have specific concerns about ageing, ask your doctor about proven ways to improve your health. Remember, healthy lifestyle choices — such as eating a healthy diet and including physical activity in your daily routine — can help you feel your best, as you get older.
Hussein Ghanem, M.D.
DermaHealth Laser Clinic
Professor, Cairo University