Does human growth hormone slow the aging process?

HGH Controversies

Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees speaks to the media during a press conference to discuss his HGH use. 
Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees speaks to the media during a press conference to discuss his HGH use. 
Rovert Browman/Stringer/Getty Images


Today, more than two decades since mass-produced human growth hormone (HGH) became available, it's still not proven to slow or reverse the aging process. This is especially true for those under the ages of 40 or 50. Until this age, our bodies are still producing HGH. Adding extra HGH to our bodies likely doesn't do much. And although it's true that some studies have shown that HGH promotes lean muscle growth and reduction of body fat in older people, the studies haven't shown a corresponding increase in strength or endurance [source: Interlandi].

Even though no formal research exists to prove definitely that HGH works as antiaging therapy, you can find informal testimonials all over the place. Hopeful patients -- men and women, young and old -- all over the country pay upward of $15,000 per year for monthly injections of HGH. Many of these patients insist that the injections restore their youthful vigor, energy and health, as well as diminish wrinkles and improve their skin [source:­Kuczynski]. However -- and this is a biggie -- using HGH for antiaging purposes is illegal. To receive a prescription for HGH therapy, you must have proof via a blood test that your hormone levels are deficient. Many doctors prescribe the hormone for antiaging anyway but are seldom prosecuted [source: Hellerman]. It's also against the law to use HGH without a doctor's supervision, rendering most online sales of the hormone illegal.

An online search for "buy HGH" yields more than a quarter-million hits. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns consumers that there is no reliable evidence to support any claims that HGH can turn back the hands of time, help you to lose weight instantly or grow bigger muscles. Many of these marketers sell their HGH in the form of pills, sprays or powders. As we talked about before, the only effective way for your body to process HGH is through an injection. Also, the FTC warns against any company that sells products claiming to boost your body's HGH production [source: Better Business Bureau].

There may be no proof that HGH is a fountain of youth, but there is plenty of proof that HGH can cause some serious side effects. Healthy adults who take HGH could develop any of the following:

  • Swelling in the arms and legs
  • Joint pain
  • Abnormal bone growth
  • Muscle pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Edema
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Enlargement of breast tissue.

Some doctors are even afraid that overuse of HGH could lead to cancer [source: Zarda].

So, after all this, you're probably still wondering whether or not HGH slows the aging process. The answer? There's no concrete scientific proof yet that it does. What does stave off aging? A regimen of eating healthy, reducing stress and getting lots of exercise.

For more about HGH and aging, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Angier, Natalie. "Human Growth Hormone Reverses Effects of Aging." New York Times. July 5, 1990. (March 13, 2009)
  • BBC News. "Human growth hormone." June 23, 1998. (March 13, 2009)
  • Better Business Bureau. "FTC - 'HGH' Pills and Sprays: Human Growth Hype?" June 1, 2005. (March 13, 2009)
  • Celizic, Mike. "Sylvester Stallone discusses HGH charge." Jan. 18, 2008. (March 13, 2009)
  • Chapman, MBBS and Ph.D., Ian M. "Introduction: Pituitary Gland Disorders." Merck Manual Home Edition. February 2007. (March 13, 2009)
  • CNN Health. "Effects of Aging on Your Body." August 14, 2007. (March 13, 2009)
  • DeSimone, Bonnie. "REMEDIES; Growth Hormone: The Secret of Youth or a Cautionary Tale?" New York Times. April 11, 2006. (March 13, 2009)
  • Freudenrich, Ph.D., Craig. "How Performance-enhancing Drugs Work." Sept. 15, 2000. (March 13, 2009)
  • Hellerman, Caleb. "Human growth hormone use rises, but is it legal?" CNN Health. May 9, 2007. (March 13, 2009)
  • The Hormone Foundation. "Growth Disorders Symptoms." 2008. (March 13, 2009)
  • Human Growth Foundation. "Pediatric Growth Hormone Deficiency." 2009. (March 13, 2009)
  • Interlandi, Jeneen. "Myth Meets Science." Newsweek. Feb. 25, 2008. (March 13, 2009)
  • Kuczynski, Alex. "Anti-Aging Potion or Poison?" New York Times. April 12, 1998. (March 13, 2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Does it slow aging?" Feb. 21, 2009. (March 13, 2009)
  • Merck Manual of Health & Aging. "Dietary Supplements." 2009. (March 13, 2009)
  • Reynolds, Gretchen. "Raging Hormones." New York Times. August 20, 2006. (March 13, 2009)
  • Vance, MD, Mary Lee. "Growth hormone for the elderly?" The New England Journal of Medicine. July 5, 1990. (March 13, 2009)
  • White, David. "Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth." Social Studies for Kids. 2009. (March 13, 2009)
  • Zarda, Brett. "Does HGH Make Men Stronger and Women Hotter?" Popular Science. Feb. 20, 2008. (March 13, 2009)