Human growth hormone abuse raises serious health risks

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.”

Human growth hormone is legitimately prescribed by endocrinologists and other doctors primarily to promote linear growth in short children. It also is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for conditions such as growth hormone deficiency, chronic kidney disease, Turner syndrome, and idiopathic short stature. It also is administered by physicians to alter body composition in adults with muscle wasting due to HIV/AIDS.

Human growth hormone is produced naturally in the body by the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. In children, HGH stimulates growth and is also important in body development. In adults, HGH can affect energy levels, and muscle and bone health.

“Though there are a number of legitimate reasons to administer human growth hormone,” said Dr. Rogol, “these do not include anti-aging or ‘improvement' in athletic performance. People who misuse this drug run the risk of seriously damaging their health.”

Founded in 1916, The Endocrine Society is the world's oldest, largest, and most active organization devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology. Today, The Endocrine Society's membership consists of over 14,000 scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in more than 80 countries. Together, these members represent all basic, applied, and clinical interests in endocrinology. The Endocrine Society is based in Chevy Chase, Md. To learn more about the Society, and the field of endocrinology, visit our web site at


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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