Growth Hormone: Is it the Fountain of Youth?

There is much in the news these days about growth hormone... promises that it melts fat, builds muscles and reverses wrinkles. Is it all hype? Is it safe? If it's so fabulous why isn't everyone on it?

BY: Dr. Marina Johnson

 

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Since growth hormone is a natural hormone, it’s usually well tolerated provided the individual is given physiologic doses similar to those normally found in the body. Side effects can include swelling, fluid retention, carpal tunnel symptoms or symptoms related to blood sugar regulations. These are generally temporary and are resolved by cutting back the dose. Patients, who are growth hormone deficient and hesitant to start therapy, need to know there are side effects associated with NOT taking growth hormone. These include a two- to three- fold increase in premature heart disease and an increase in diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and strokes.

Just as a person can become deficient in thyroid hormone at any age, a person may become deficient in growth hormone at any age. Any circumstance, which causes traumatic or inflammatory injury to the head, has the potential to later cause deficiency in growth hormone and/or other pituitary hormones as well. Typical examples include head trauma from car accidents or sports injuries; history of radiation treatments to the head and neck; complications of pregnancy such as high blood pressure, or excessive post-partum bleeding and, of course, any kind of brain surgery.

It is essential that the person be properly diagnosed. Growth hormone deficiency can be caused by a brain tumor often requiring surgical treatment. Simply putting the patient on growth hormone therapy could prevent them from getting life-saving surgery! Or that person could have subtle symptoms of cortisol deficiency and giving that person growth hormone without first correcting cortisol could actually make them worse! Growth hormone deficiency, like other pituitary disorders, is best treated by an endocrinologist, a physician who has undergone specialty fellowship training to deal with complex endocrine problems, such as growth hormone deficiency.

Marina Johnson, M.D., F.A.C.E., a UCLA-USC trained physician has no ties to any pharmaceutical company. She is the author of “Outliving Your Ovaries: An Endocrinologist Reviews the Risks and Rewards of Treating Menopause With Hormone Replacement Therapy.” She’s appeared on Joni’s Table Talk on Daystar Television Network, The Balancing Act on Lifetime Television, Daybreak USA radio show and written articles for numerous magazines.

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