ANNOUNCER: Growth hormone is one of the most complex and crucial substances produced in the body. Too much or too little of it can have serious consequences, that will often require appropriate treatment. Lately, much has been written about its possible use as an anti-aging miracle drug. But it's important to separate fact from fiction in discussing the basics about this essential human hormone.
SHLOMO MELMED, MD: Growth hormone is one of the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland, the master gland of the body. It's situated at the base of the brain and it secretes multiple hormones, which control growth, fertility, metabolism, how we utilize our fuels, how we respond to external temperature changes and generally how our bodies maintain their balance.
VIVIAN BONERT, MD: In childhood, it is really involved mainly in growth in the attainment of final adult height. However after final growth has been achieved, growth hormone is influential in the synthesis of proteins, which are the building blocks of the body.
SHLOMO MELMED, MD: At the same time, growth hormone also stimulates the liver to manufacture another hormone, which is termed insulin-like growth factor 1 or IGF-1, which is a very powerful stimulator of bony growth.
ANNOUNCER: Sometimes growth hormone imbalances can occur. Having too much can cause different conditions, depending on when it occurs.
SHLOMO MELMED, MD: If the body produces too much growth hormone, prior to the end of our growth phase, then the individual will in fact become a giant and continue to grow and that condition will be termed gigantism. If however the excess growth hormone occurs after the bones have completed their growth, then the individual will present with the features of acromegaly-- bony overgrowth of their face, of their jaws, of their skulls. For example patients will complain of increasing ring size or increasing shoe size, due to the growth of those bones in the feet or in the fingers. Excess growth hormone secretion can be treated by surgery, radiation or medical modes.
ANNOUNCER: Another imbalance can occur if too little growth hormone is present in the body. This is called growth hormone deficiency. Once again, when this condition happens is important.
SHLOMO MELMED, MD: If it occurs during infancy, childhood or adolescence, then that individual will not grow to the height at which he or she would have grown under normal circumstances. If however growth hormone deficiency occurs after the individual has completed his or her growth, then that individual will usually present with obesity, central fat around the abdominal area, high lipids, low energy, decreased muscle mass and a general feeling of depression and isolation.
Growth hormone deficiency is very easily treated. It's treated by replacing growth hormone by injection either to a child or to an adult.
ANNOUNCER: The ability to synthesize growth hormone in the lab has caused quite a stir. Since our bodies secrete less growth hormone as we age, many assume that taking additional doses of growth hormone would be like dipping into a fountain of youth.
VIVIAN BONERT, MD: Growth hormone deficient adults are known to have decreased energy, and fatigue. And it has been thought by several groups that administration of growth hormone to the aging population who frequently experience these symptoms would be beneficial.
SHLOMO MELMED, MD: Growth hormone has not yet been approved for use in so-called "aging". And therefore I would be very cautious about using growth hormone for individuals who want to use the drug as a panacea for aging.
The most important side effects of taking too much growth hormone are in fact the features of acromegaly, with enlarged jaws and facial features, with mild diabetes, high blood pressure, fluid retention, change in shoe size and ring size in a more mild fashion, growth hormone excess taken for example, by unnecessary injection may lead to muscle cramps, joint pains and joint inflammation.
VIVIAN BONERT, MD: There are no long-term studies that have shown that replacement of growth hormone in aging adults is beneficial. In fact it may be detrimental.
ANNOUNCER: While growth hormone might not be the wonder drug that keeps the body from aging, it is a vital chemical that keeps the body healthy and functioning.