Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Does human growth hormone slow the aging process?

The Study on HGH and Aging

­In 1990, the New England Journal of Medicine published a small-scale study of human growth hormone (HGH). In a trial, researchers injected a dozen healthy men, age 61 to 81, with HGH for six months. The study showed amazing results. The men reported an increase of lean body mass, a decrease of body fat, increased elasticity of skin, improved mood and positive increases in blood pressure and blood sugar. It even appeared that organs like the heart and kidneys actually began returning to normal size (our vital organs tend to shrink with age). The study seemed to point to HGH as a miracle drug in combating the effects of aging.

Using these findings as a jumping-off point, researchers hypothesized all sorts of ways HGH could help the elderly. Patients recovering from broken hips or other bone-related surgery might heal faster. Bedridden patients with loss of muscle could use HGH to help rebuild what had wasted away. The possibilities were endless, and when the study hit the news media, a wave of excitement rippled through the health and nutrition community.

However, editors of the journal stressed that further studies were necessary. First of all, the study didn't include women, so there was no way of knowing if the female body would react to the injections in the same manner. Also, the men were only injected for six months. There were no studies on the long-term effects or overuse of the hormone on a man's body. The researchers also admitted that just because the men's organs and muscles grew bigger, there was no proof that they were more powerful or healthy.

The New England Journal of Medicine amended the article with an editorial statement that read: "Our understanding of growth hormone, its interrelations with other hormones, and its regulation of metabolism is considerable. Although its actions and benefits are fairly clear in children with growth hormone deficiency, they are not at all clear in adults" [source: Vance].

However, that one study was all some fraudulent advertisers needed. Soon, online retailers were selling HGH in all different forms. Today, scams citing the 1990 study as their medical proof are everywhere. In 2003, the Journal was also forced to add a note to its study denouncing these various misleading advertisements.

Read on to learn about HGH controversies and side effects.