Human growth hormone (HGH): Does it slow aging?

Human growth hormone is described by some as the key to slowing the aging process. Before you sign up, get the facts.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland — a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain — to fuel childhood growth and help maintain tissues and organs throughout life. Beginning in middle age, however, the pituitary gland slowly reduces the amount of growth hormone it produces.

This natural slowdown has prompted an interest in the use of synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) to stave off some of the changes that occur with age, such as decreased muscle and bone mass.

If you're skeptical, good for you. There's little evidence to suggest human growth hormone can help otherwise healthy adults regain youth and vitality. In fact, experts recommend against using HGH to treat aging or age-related conditions.

Do some adults need human growth hormone?

Yes. Adults who have true growth hormone deficiency — not the expected decline in growth hormone due to aging — may be prescribed synthetic human growth hormone by their doctors.

Growth hormone deficiency in adults is rare and may be caused by pituitary adenoma — a tumor on the pituitary gland — or treatment of the adenoma with surgery or radiotherapy. For adults who have a growth hormone deficiency, injections of human growth hormone can:

  • Increase exercise capacity
  • Increase bone density
  • Increase muscle mass
  • Decrease body fat

Human growth hormone is also approved to treat adults with short bowel syndrome or AIDS- or HIV-related muscle wasting.

What can human growth hormone do for healthy adults?

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 may provide other benefits to healthy adults.

Feb. 01, 2014 See more In-depth