Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a complex hormone that’s main function is to stimulate growth and regenerate cells. HGH is used medically to treat childhood growth disorders as well as growth hormone deficiency in adults. More recently, the use of growth hormone has become very popular for anti-aging in older adults as well as use in sports for its purported performance enhancing effects. Competitive bodybuilders and recreational lifters also use growth hormone for its professed benefits in building muscle and decreasing fat stores. HGH is widely accepted as an effective performance enhancing drug, as well as a catalyst to a lean, muscular physique. While some of its benefits have been documented clinically, many others have not. Of the limited studies that have been conducted on the effects of HGH, most of them have been conducted on people with HGH deficiencies children. There have been no studies on how HGH supplementation affects healthy individuals with otherwise normal Growth Hormone levels as to do so would be viewed as unethical. However, we can deduce from what studies do exist what the primary effects of growth hormone supplementation on healthy athletes are. This article is intended to show what we know about HGH supplementation and how it affects healthy athletes and those using it to build muscle and lose fat.
Growth hormone use in sports has gotten tons of press over the past two decades. So much so, that millions of dollars were spent by several organizations to develop a reliable test to determine if an athlete was using it. This is not to mention that each individual test can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Athletes use growth hormone believing they can gain an edge on their competition by improving their speed and strength. There is, however, no clinical evidence that growth hormone can increase muscle performance. In fact, several studies have demonstrated that it does not increase performance, or even detrimental effects in some circumstances of prolonged or excessive use. A recent clinical study on the effects of HGH supplementation on glucocorticoid-treated children was published in April 2013 by the Hôpital Robert Debré, Service d'Endocrinologie et Diabétologie in Paris, France. The study administered HGH for one year to test subjects and measured its effects on lean body mass, muscle area, height as well as muscle strength. What they found was that HGH increased the height, lean mass and muscle area of the test subjects. However, they found it had no effect on muscle strength. This study supports what was found in a 2007 Stanford University study on elderly patients. Under similar conditions, the elderly patients increased muscle mass by about 2 kg and decreased body fat by the same amount, but muscle strength remained unchanged. This indicates that HGH merely allows the body to store more water in the muscles rather than causes an increase muscle growth. This would explain the increase in lean body mass. There have been no reliable studies that have demonstrated any improvement in athletic performance or strength from the use of HGH in either HGH deficient people or those with adequate levels who supplement. To demonstrate the effects of excess HGH levels further; there is a disorder that occurs rarely in some people called Acromegaly. Acromegaly is a condition by which the pituitary gland produces extreme amounts of growth hormone in the individual, usually as a result of a pituitary tumor. The condition causes multiple detrimental effects to the body, such as soft tissue swelling, thickening skin, and enlargement of the hands, feet, jaw and other bones. It also causes increased organ growth (with exception of the brain) which can result in liver, kidney or heart failure. It does not, however, cause the person to have additional muscle growth or any improved athletic ability. In fact, it causes a notable decrease in muscle strength in addition to increased joint and muscle pain.
With no evidence there is any benefit of HGH on athletic performance, what about its use for bodybuilding and vanity purposes? As mentioned, it has been shown that HGH can increase lean body mass and muscle size as well as decrease fat content. There was a study from the Department of Endocrinology, Algemeen Ziekenhuis Middelheim in Antwerpen, Belgium that administered Growth Hormone to a group of healthy adults whose only abnormality was a natural growth hormone deficiency. What they discovered at the three month interval was a lean body mass increase of 5% and a total body water increase of 5.4%. They also noted a body fat decrease of 10.9% at the three month mark. However, measurements taken immediately after the study at month 24 showed that these increases were not maintained and the individuals lost the gained mass and gained the lost fat. So it can be concluded that HGH supplementation has a measurable positive effect on lean mass and body fat. However, this seems to be the result of a shift in the way HGH tells your body to store fluids only. That is, HGH dictates that more water be stored in muscle and less in fat. This explains the rapid reversal of the positive effects on lean mass and body fat when HGH use was discontinued and also explains why a sizable increase in muscle size does not result in any increase in strength whatsoever. The water levels return to their normal levels in both muscle and fat after use was discontinued.
With so much being made about how bad growth hormone is for sports and its purported performance enhancing effects, it appears that this is all for nothing, as clinical evidence shows no benefit at all to athletic performance. The main benefit to the use of Human Growth Hormone for bodybuilders is its ability to shift fluids to muscle and away from fat but only while it is being administered. Lasting effects post-use should not be expected. Also, the use of growth hormone for strength and performance increases is not beneficial and can even be detrimental to muscle strength. Our knowledge of how this complex hormone works remains in its infancy, so much more research is needed to fully understand HGH and all of its variables.