An Overview of Human Growth Hormone

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What is HGH?

At the base of the human brain resides a small member of the endocrine system called the pituitary gland. The pituitary produces and secretes a variety of hormones, each of which controls a different body function. One important hormone produced by the pituitary's anterior lobe is human growth hormone (HGH). HGH stimulates cell division and reproduction and is responsible for the rapid growth experienced by children and adolescents. HGH also stimulates the regeneration and maintenance of connective tissue, muscle and bone cells in healthy adults.


HGH does more than increase height in young people. It also promotes protein synthesis, improves lipid profiles and immune system function, lowers cardiovascular risk, increases muscle mass and bone density and reduces body fat. There is widespread belief within the athletic community that HGH helps athletes develop stronger, leaner muscles, better endurance and faster rebound time from exertion. HGH has also garnered interest as an anti-aging treatment. Look for an analysis of current regulations here.


HGH occurs naturally in the human body, with children and young adults producing a far greater amount than adults. At one time, HGH was harvested for human use from cadavers, but this practice was halted in 1985 due to fear of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CGD). HGH is also created synthetically in laboratories. The synthetic variation is called recombinant human growth hormone, (rHGH), and is only available with a doctor's prescription.

Medicinal Use

HGH is generally prescribed to children with growth disorders and to adults with growth hormone deficiencies. It is occasionally prescribed to adults for such "off label" purposes as to increase vitality in older adults who are ill or to help patients with AIDS wasting syndrome. Treatment with HGH must be regularly monitored due to the severity of side effects when too much HGH is given. Side effects include joint swelling and pain, increased risk of diabetes, and in severe cases of overdose, thickened fingers, toes, and enlarged facial features.

Athletic Use

Although illegal, hgh use in sports has a long history. While there is limited scientific evidence that growth hormone "doping" actually improves athletic performance, the fact that athletes believe it does is undeniable. Recombinant HGH is widely available on the black market, both alone and in combination with other performance enhancing agents. The International Olympic Committee in 1989 was the first major organization to ban HGH, but it has since been banned by other governing sports bodies and was one of the illegal substances that led to "doping" charges against legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong. It's probably just a matter of time before even NBA basketball players are required to submit to growth hormone testing. Competitive athletes in power and endurance sports such as weight lifting, wrestling, swimming, cycling and track and field tend to be the ones who think they have something to gain from HGH supplementation.

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