hGH: the truth about Human Growth Hormone ...
No hype, no scare tactics, just the latest research and expert findings from Doctors on the front line of the war against aging
By Wayne Caparas 1999
Ponce deLeon would be proud
Here’s the factual background of hGH. Somatropin. Human Growth Hormone. They’re one in the same. The richest of Hollywood’s stars, the most powerful of Manhattan’s social elite, and the most educated baby boomers who happen to know an anti-aging physician are lining up to pay $20,000 per year for the latest “miracle breakthrough” in anti-aging science. Senior citizens are feeling, looking, and acting 20 years younger. Fifty year old patients swear they are 35 again. The list of reported benefits is long and incredulous. It’s touted as a new drug, yet bodybuilders, powerlifters, and professional athletes have been abusing it for decades now, and many have already lost their lives or suffered severe deformation because of it. Worst of all, before it became widely available these giants were having to steal it “from the mouths of babes”; juvenile dwarves who desperately needed the rare substance if they hoped to enjoy a normal life were being pushed further and further down a waiting list as wealthy outlaws illegally acquired it. It was as if they were robbing hearts and kidneys from a transplant bank just because eating the meat made them bigger and stronger. There have been reports that patients who received the hormone from it’s only natural source--the pituitary glands of cadavers--where were linked to the spread of Mad Cow Disease. No wonder the drug is as scary as it is controversial. So why are the richest of the rich treating hGH as if it were the magical nectar that flows from the mythical fountain of youth? You’ll see.
What is it?
Human growth hormone is basically the master hormone produced by the master gland--the pituitary--which rests just behind your eyes. hGH acts as a catalyst for many glandular secretions and life functions critical to maintaining youth, and it’s the stuff that makes nearly every cell in our bodies grow and repair over the course of our lives. So it makes sense that bodybuilders would be so desirous of it. But why are the “beautiful people” who have it all playing guinea pig? First off, most believe the risks are over exaggerated, and that they are actually on the cutting edge of a medical revolution. For some yet unresolved reason (probably related to our peak reproductive age), our pituitary stops producing hGH in sufficient quantities to maintain optimum health and vigor somewhere around our fortieth birthday. The aging process kicks in at this age, and it is widely recognized that the uncompensated hGH deficiency allows our cells to break down faster than they can repair (catabolism). Research has shown that by the age of forty, our hGH production is down to 50% of youthful levels, and by the age of fifty-five it is down to 20%; which is not much more than the amount someone in their eighties can produce. Memory loss, energy level loss, physical stamina loss, loss of muscle tone, increased muscle atrophy, increased fat storage, decreased bone density, loss of skin elasticity, weakened immune system, increased abdominal girth (pot belly), and sexual function decline are just a few of the well known symptoms of aging. The proponents of hGH therapy believe that most of these symptoms can at least in part be attributed to Growth Hormone deficiency. Second, hGH supplementation has been shown in many studies to at least inhibit this aging process (if not reverse it), so it should seem quite natural that scientists worldwide have been working feverishly to develop an easily produced synthetic version for several decades; and they finally did it. There are two versions on the market, both approved pharmaceuticals (though not for anti-aging or bodybuilding), and both are considered equally effective. One of the synthetics, having 191 amino acids, is identical to natural somatrophin. The other has 192 amino acids, and at worst causes minor allergic reactions that the identical does not. Right now only the rich and powerful have been fully informed about the synthetic substance and it’s life enhancing characteristics, for only they can afford it. So why do they do it?--because they can.
What are the experts saying?
Every doctor and relevant practitioner I interviewed, who was not directly involved in hGH research or use, took the expected ultra-conservative stance. Don’t do it. It hasn’t been proven to work. The risks are too high. We have no idea what the long term costs will be. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Meanwhile, many in the European Medical Community have been promoting hGH supplementation for anti-aging purposes for more than a decade. In fact, Dr. Jake Powrie, M.D. and Dr. Andrew Weissberger of St. Thomas Hospital in London, England went on record in 1995 to recommend that “All adults with growth hormone deficiency should now be considered for growth hormone replacement therapy.” That’s more than 95% of everyone over forty. According to Dr. Adrienne Denese, M.D. and Dr. Bruce Nadler, M.D., members of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and two of the nation’s leading proponents of hGH replacement as an anti-aging treatment, the benefits resulting from the therapy are dramatic and broad ranging. Dr. Denese (forty-something years old) is a specialist within the growing field of Anti-Aging Medicine, and Dr. Nadler (fifty-one years old), is a Plastic Surgeon with twenty-two years in practice. Both are highly respected M.D.’s with offices in the extravagantly affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan, both are experts on hGH therapy, both have completed exhaustive investigations into every hGH research study conducted within the international medical community (more than 200 papers are in circulation), both are closely monitoring all ongoing research projects (most notably Johns-Hopkins University medical research center’s double-blind study which is generally accepted to be the landmark American study), both have conducted their own research by serving as their own test patients (yes, they use hGH), and most significantly, both have arrived at such positive conclusions--even before the Johns-Hopkins results are in--that they are now actively prescribing the drug to all who qualify and pass their in-depth screening process. I’ve got to tell you, each Doctor is a startling specimen of youth and vitality. Dr. Denese is stunningly beautiful and fit, while Dr. Nadler, who bodybuilds as a hobby, has the physique of a thirty year old professional athlete. Each Doctor reports an ever increasing list of wealthy celebrities and New York “power brokers” among their clientele of hGH patients. At first it may appear that these reputable doctors and their famous role model patients (few of which are willing to publicly admit their usage) were rushing into a high stakes poker game where wise men fear to tread. But they are all confident that all ongoing research will reach the same conclusions and prove hGH--when used properly--to be completely safe and effective. Timing is everything, and I pray that these beautiful test subjects are right.
The hGH Stigma
My goal is not to force feed you with opinions, but instead to inform you of the documented facts concerning what many regard to be the closest thing to a life giving elixir--a clinical fountain of youth--that modern science has ever stumbled upon. I must admit that I was more than skeptical when I began my research. Being a holistic health and fitness journalist, I held a thorough prejudice against hGH use, mostly due to my own eye witness experiences of it’s abuse (overuse). Several young men with whom I played football back in the early 80’s, and several men and women I know today in the sports medicine community have abused the substance in effort to greatly enhance strength and physical performance. I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the devastating physical and psychological damage abuse of this powerful hormone has caused their bodies and minds. Studly men in their twenties transformed into gorillas; brooding brow, woolly hair and all. Formerly civilized and humble couples over forty turned into viciously competitive and psychopathic narcissists. The synthetic breakthrough was a Godsend for thousands of kids, but due to the stigma of past and current abuse, many in the medical community still carry a blatantly negative predisposition toward adult usage of the drug, and I was prepared to go on my own personal crusade against its widespread use. But prejudice is ignorance, so I took a deep breath and entered the research stage with as open a mind as I could muster up. After careful review, I am more than a little chagrined. Don’t jump yet, but there may in fact be reason for the world to celebrate, as our ability to survive and persevere well into our hundreds may be on the near horizon.
Words to the Wise
Before I go on, I would like to caution you. Medicine is big business, and many in the medical community are better at selling or preaching than they are at healing. Reported health risks and possible side effects from hGH supplementation are numerous and intimidating to say the least, but most are speculative or have been shown to result from overdosage. They include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, hypertension, dementia, a variety of psychoses, and most common, acromegaly; the deformation suffered by those who deliberately overdose on hGH for strength and size. Dr. Bob Goldman of the National Academy of Sports Medicine reports that symptoms include enlargement of the jaw bone, the forehead, the brow ridges, hands, feet, and skull; a coarsening and deformation of facial features; the widening of joint spaces that lead to significant joint pain and carpal tunnel syndrome; and most dangerous of all, an increase in organ size including enlargement of the heart which often leads to congestive heart failure. People who suffer from acromegaly due to natural hyperactivity of the pituitary gland (gigantism) age very rapidly and are usually dead by the age of forty. Aside from acromegaly, the highest concern among possible side effects is the risk of increased cancerous tumor growth and metastasization in patients with a family or personal history of cancer; even at moderate doses of hGH therapy. Neither Dr. Denese nor Dr. Nadler will prescribe hGh to a patient who falls into this category.
The FDA Connection
Since the FDA has yet to approve hGH as an anti-aging treatment, the medical insurance companies will not cover it’s cost for this use. It’s completely legal, but it’s not covered by insurance...yet. Dianne Walker, Consumer Safety Officer for the FDA, confirmed this peculiarity. According to Walker the pharmaceutical companies that hold synthetic hGH patents have yet to request FDA approval for its use as an anti-aging drug. As Walker put it, until they “go public” with their research findings and new requests, the FDA can offer no opinion on the drugs additional applications. Surprisingly, the FDA has not even had a chance to review hGH use for anti-aging since the drug companies have yet to ask for its use under this category. The FDA has never found cause to reject hGH application for any use. Ms. Walker stated that the pharmaceutical companies have requested FDA approval of hGH replacement therapy for just three illnesses: Juvenile Dwarfism, Turner Syndrome (a rare hGH deficiency that strikes adolescent girls), and for adults, severe Somatropin (hGH) Deficiency Syndrome, or hypopituitarism. Though Walker had no record of FDA approval application for any other uses of hGH, recent reports indicate that insurance companies will now cover hGH therapy to treat AIDS Wasting Syndrome. The hormone therapy (in high doses) has been shown to stimulate weight gain, increase strength, and subsequently boost the immune system and overall quality of life for AIDS patients. A cursory overview of these uses almost in itself indicates the hormone’s life enhancing use. After all, if it is approved for those who suffer from “severe” hGH deficiencies, why is it not approved for everyone else over 40 who suffers from “normal” hGH deficiency? According to Dr. Denese and Dr. Nadler, it is mostly a matter of politics and big business, but it is also just a matter of time before increased consumer demand will get the attention of the powers that be, and hGH therapy will become as accepted as any other hormone replacement. They agree that there is absolutely no ethical difference between synthetic human growth hormone replacement and the widely accepted therapies of synthetic insulin, thyroid, or estrogen hormone replacements.
Walking the Talk
After one and a half years of hGH therapy, Dr. Adrienne Denese could be the spokes-model for growth hormone; or any other product for that matter. The Hungarian born graduate of Cornell University Medical College is both brilliant and beautiful. In the first months of treatment she noticed immediate benefits including increases and improvements in physical stamina, learning and memory capacity, mental alertness, and mood balance; and she felt that she had regained the energy level of a twenty-five year old. Her friends most readily notice youthful changes in her skin, while her formerly “thin” hair was becoming thicker and longer. Dr. Denese kindly invited me to touch her glowing skin and to closely study her luxurious hair. I found it hard to believe that she could ever have had the skin of an average forty year old woman, or thin hair for that matter. And yes, I asked her if she had undergone a face lift, and she proudly answered “never.” Dr. Denese became most excited as she discussed the changes to her fitness level and body composition. With the amazement of a child she described the wonderfully brief recuperative period following each workout, while she experienced the muscle growth equal to that she had enjoyed in her young twenties. “I see that my muscles respond much better to workouts than before [hGH use]. The same amount of time and effort pays far greater dividends...I almost feel like an impostor at times. There I am, working out as little as I do and the rewards are so fabulous...I’m very grateful, as I have very little time to work out these days.” Dr. Bruce Nadler also reported immediate improvements paralleling those of Dr. Denese. Most notably, even at fifty the fine wrinkles in his face gradually faded away, as his skin took on a younger and rosier complexion. From a fitness perspective, Dr. Nadler delighted in the fact that his injuries healed faster, his strength and endurance increased, and his dietary tolerance returned to levels of his prime. Being a fitness and nutrition expert, Dr. Nadler is no stranger to pioneering efforts and is a walking-talking encyclopedia of health and nutrition. Dr. Nadler didn’t hesitate to admit the new found freedoms of youth afforded by his therapy. “I’ve been able to significantly loosen my diet. I used to calculate every gram...but since I began growth hormone therapy, I can eat desert whenever I want. I have the metabolism I enjoyed in my late twenties.” In contrast to Dr. Denese, Dr. Nadler has his own unique way of expressing his gratitude for his physical re-birth. In the nearly two years of hGH therapy, Dr. Bruce Nadler (the amateur body builder) has gained twenty pounds of lean muscle mass and has reduced his body fat percentage to under 9%. He’s fifty-one folks. These are genuinely the numbers of a thirty year old. Dr. Nadler’s wife Terry is fifty-two and began therapy about six months after her husband. She recalls that in the days before hGH replacement she could barely walk up stairs after a vigorous leg workout at the gym. Terri exclaims “since I’ve been on the growth hormone, my recuperative period is like...nil!” This quick recovery and lack of prolonged soreness is among the most common results welcomed by fitness enthusiasts. Dr. Denese qualifies however, that like anything else, some patients respond to the therapy faster than others, and some require increased dosages. According to Dr. Denese, “there are some binding proteins [present at high levels in some people] that may be responsible [for inhibiting results], but at the moment we cannot control them.” Testing criteria are very specific and exhaustive, and the dosage is determined by hGH deficiency and body size. The screening process generally costs just $200, and aside from diabetics and those at high risk for cancer, anyone with lower than optimum levels of somatropin are eligible for treatment.
The “C” Word
You may be surprised at Dr. Denese’s commentary on the cancer issue. “If there is any history of cancer I would not want to [prescribe hGH] for legal reasons--not for anything else but for legal reasons.” ”If I developed cancer, I would continue to take the growth hormone, because I think that it fortifies your immune system so much that it can only help. Because of my personal feelings, I would not give it to a patient [with cancer] because I would not want to find myself in court answering questions about it.” Dr. Denese also reports of many studies that have been looking for a relationship between hGH and accelerated cancer malignancy and thus far all are inconclusive. In fact some have even found minor evidence that hGH may actually inhibit the growth of cancer. Terri Nadler agrees in spirit. “I’m certainly not going to give it up...even if, God forbid, I should get cancer somewhere down the road. It’s quality of life that counts.” Leading European researchers Dr. G. Johannsson, M.D. and Dr. Rosen M.D. of University Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden, published their opinion that “There is no evidence suggesting that Growth Hormone Replacement Therapy causes any unfavorable long term side effects.” Dr.’s Denese and Nadler agree.
Science or Science Fiction
Dr. Denese’s oldest patient is ninety-four, and according to Denese, this elderly woman was essentially disabled before treatment. She could barely communicate, could not readily move about, and even needed help being fed. Now that the woman is on hGH replacement therapy, she is able to walk about a bit, she talks much more coherently, and she is able to feed herself again. In general, she has a much “higher quality of life”. Dr. Denese stresses “it is not our intention to keep people alive forever; I don’t mix science fiction into the picture at all. I have very modest goals. All I want is to give a better quality of life to the individual...I don’t know whether growth hormone will extend life, but I’m not particularly concerned about that. We will find out. For animals [in the laboratory] it does, but for humans, [synthetic hGH] hasn’t been around long enough to tell.” This is a factor that warrants repeating. It will be many years before we truly know the real risks involved, which may be horrific, or the real benefits, which may be miraculous. Only time will tell. If quality of life and the ability to do good works could be assured, most people would love to live for hundreds of years. After all, survival is our most basic God given instinct. But just as Ponce de Leon taught us, perseverance is worthless without enlightenment, so you will ultimately have to do some real soul searching and internal cost-benefit analyses to reach your own conclusions. It is my observation that the hGH pioneers are conservatively replacing their growth hormone back to the normal levels necessary for optimal health and youth. The enlightened find this to be as basic as vitamin and mineral supplementation. Without it, the body and mind may age much faster, and possibly even die prematurely. The few bad apples that out of impatience or pure vanity abuse a good thing--even a supplement as benign as vitamin C--can and usually will pay a hefty price for their stupidity. But we should not let the abuses of the ignorant spoil our attitude toward an extraordinary medical breakthrough developed over several decades by many distinguished scientists. No matter where you stand on this issue, they deserve our respect.
When I asked Dr. Denese for a closing statement, I was quite impressed with her spontaneous answer, as she expressed her disappointment with the pharmaceutical companies. “It makes me feel bad that many people who need this substance cannot get it for financial reasons, and I certainly hope that once the patent expires (in 2002) these drug companies won’t have the power to keep an artificially high price, because there are more important issues than money here.” $700 per month is practically the minimum effective therapy cost, so most people who need the hGH may not be able to afford it until prices drop. With the combined effect of patent expirations, increased demand, and anticipated FDA approval, hGH should be accessible to the masses within the next five years. There are also oral supplements (secretagogues) in the research labs that are being designed to stimulate natural release of hGH. Dr. Nadler warns consumers not to be fooled by the “rip-offs” currently on the market that fraudulently claim secretagogue properties. There are not yet any effective orals available, so don’t be fooled. Dr. Nadler’s closing comment was equally compelling, as he expressed his contentment over his role as a pioneer. “[As a Plastic Surgeon for 22 years] I have been creating some beautiful facades of youth. But now hGH therapy gives me a chance to put a foundation beneath that facade.” Stay tuned to OXYGEN for the latest in hGH updates.
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