Human growth hormone (HGH), when medically necessary, is a safe and effective clinical treatment for children and adults.
When abused, however, HGH can pose serious health risks.
Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee on behalf of The Endocrine Society, Dr. Alan Rogol outlined the legitimate medical uses of HGH and the serious health consequences surrounding its abuse by athletes, celebrities, and those hoping to find a way to combat the effects of aging.
“There are a number of safe and legitimate FDA-approved uses of growth hormone in adults and children,” said Dr. Rogol. “The off-label use of growth hormone, which primarily is in the anti-aging and body image or athletic market, comes with increased risks.”
One risk factor is that most off-label users are usually unaware of the correct doses. “One can assume that the dose administered would be much greater than that given for legitimate purposes,” said Dr. Rogol.
At higher HGH dosages, it is possible to achieve levels similar to those found in the endocrine disease acromegaly, which is caused by too much growth hormone in the body. This condition can lead to severe muscle weakness and even heart disease.
According to Dr. Rogol, perhaps the most insidious off-label use is by athletes and others who believe they are using actual growth hormone, when in fact they may be receiving an entirely different substance.
“Magazines and the internet are replete with advertisements for substances marketed as ‘growth hormone',” said Dr. Rogol. “Growth hormone, however, can only work if injected, and many of these preparations are taken orally, so they cannot possibly be HGH.”
These compounds falsely sold as HGH may contain other unlisted ingredients, including anabolic steroid hormones or steroid precursors, which have been found to promote the growth of tumors. These unlisted ingredients can also appear in unknown quantities, while the entire preparation is of unknown purity.
In addition, the vast majority of clinically administered growth hormone is made by recombinant DNA techniques and not from human tissue. “Growth hormone made from human tissue has largely been removed from the market because of the rare but fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” said Dr. Rogol. “Some of the HGH now available clandestinely is of human origin and may carry this deadly biological agent.”