Human Growth Hormone - Who benefits?

Human Growth Hormone - Who benefits?

March 15, 2018

At Skilled Athlete we love tackling the controversial subjects, for two reasons, to educate ourselves - and to pass it on to you. Speaking of controversial subjects, we're not looking to make friends or enemies. You don’t have to agree and we're always open to discussion, but let's get one thing straight from the start. We're looking at this subject objectively and have absolutely nothing to gain with this article other than just an opportunity to jaw off for a bit. Our opinion is formed solely based on what the numbers say, also known as statistical analysis. 

There's plenty of crap out there that has been proven to be a Performance Enhancing Drug, and consequently banned, for obvious reasons. We're not going to discuss those here. We're going to focus on Human Growth Hormone, because there's plenty of speculation on the added benefits of supplemental Human Growth Hormone. Not only are there companies out there selling HGH as performance enhancing, it is also being flogged as a magic potion to turn back the clock on ageing, heal injuries faster and even grow your bones, after you're done growing.

What we're not going to do is present you with a fully sick review by "Steve Somebloke" who also goes by the internet alias of *Swoleguy213 on your average bodybuilding forum.

First off, there's some potential side effects - and if they don't raise your eyebrow, we'll present you with some numbers.

The illegal use of HGH without a prescription, for example to promote muscle growth, is risky. It can cause acromegaly, possibly diabetes, high blood pressure, liver damage, heart problems and premature ageing.

What the hell is acromegaly? 

Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. When this happens, your bones increase in size, including those of your hands, feet and face. Acromegaly usually affects middle-aged adults.

Because acromegaly is uncommon and physical changes occur gradually, the condition often isn't recognised immediately: sometimes not for years. If not treated promptly, acromegaly can lead to serious illness and even become life-threatening. Acromegaly may produce the following signs and symptoms, which can vary from one person to another:

  • Enlarged hands and feet
  • Coarsened, enlarged facial features
  • Coarse, oily, thickened skin
  • Excessive sweating and body odor
  • Small outgrowths of skin tissue (skin tags)
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • A deepened, husky voice due to enlarged vocal cords and sinuses
  • Severe snoring due to obstruction of the upper airway
  • Impaired vision
  • Headaches
  • Enlarged tongue
  • Pain and limited joint mobility
  • Menstrual cycle irregularities in women
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Enlarged liver, heart, kidneys, spleen and other organs
  • Increased chest size (barrel chest)

So let's look at some numbers, the following findings we're going to present to you are based on meta-analysis and systematic reviews published in peer-reviewed journals. In other words, boffins in a lab. First question, does Human Growth Hormone increase athletic performance in healthy young adults?

A group of super smart dudes performed a meta-analysis of published studies on the effect of GH administration on body composition, substrate metabolism (how effectively energy is used and improved by training,) and athletic performance in healthy, young subjects. This is what they found;


Administration of GH significantly increased lean body mass (p<0.01) and decreased fat mass (p<0.01). In addition, GH increased the exercising levels of glycerol (p=0.01) and free fatty acids (p<0.01), but did not alter the respiratory quotient during exercise (p=0.30). GH significantly increased anaerobic exercise capacity (p<0.01) in the only study which investigated this, but did not over weeks to months improve muscle strength (p=0.36) or maximum oxygen uptake (p=0.89).


GH administration elicits significant changes in body composition, but does not increase either muscle strength or aerobic exercise capacity in healthy, young subjects.


Let's make a few deductions and idiot proof some things in those findings. First off, in statistics, probability needs to higher than .5 (the p bit.) Second, the terms they use to describe the findings are significantly important. You'll increase lean body mass, although some other studies accredit this to fluid retention rather than GH. You'll lose fat. You'll experience increased levels of glycerol, a naturally occurring carbohydrate which can be used as a fuel source by the body. Probably the biggest benefit you can see in that list, is the improved performance of anaerobic capacity. Which depending on your sport, or reasons can be a pretty big bonus.

So it does do some stuff to your body, but at what cost?

You might've heard a few rumours it has the potential to cause cancer? Well the boffins have looked at that too, but unfortunately there is no conclusive research on the subject. There's presumably a correlation, but whether that applies to healthy, young adults, and their propensity to cancer, remains yet to be seen...  

Extensive epidemiological data exist that also support a link between GH/IGF-1 status and cancer risk. Epidemiological studies of patients with acromegaly indicate an increased risk of colorectal cancer...

So, in conclusion, the claims that growth hormone enhances physical performance are not supported by the scientific literature. Although the limited available evidence suggests that growth hormone increases lean body mass, it may not improve strength; in addition, it may worsen exercise capacity and increase adverse events. GH does not increase either muscle strength or aerobic exercise capacity in healthy, young subjects.

Make up your own mind on the matter, but you lost me at body odour, erectile dysfunction and cancer.





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