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HGH Side Effects and Long-Term Risks

By Bonnie Singleton

Manufacturers of human growth products, known as HGH, claim HGH is a wonder drug that will reverse the aging process, remove wrinkles, promote lean muscle mass and fat loss, and boost your sex life. With worldwide sales of human growth hormone estimated to be $1.5 to $2 billion in 2008, according to the “Journal of the American Medical Association,” it’s apparent that many people believe those claims. However, it’s difficult to estimate the side effects of HGH supplements because each company has its own formula, and few clinical trials have studied HGH long term.


HGH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that promotes bone and muscle growth and helps regulate metabolism, with levels gradually declining as you age. Some people have a true growth hormone deficiency not related to aging that requires HGH injections, but HGH isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any other uses. In fact, in January 2007, the FDA issued an alert that prescribing and distributing HGH for anti-aging and body building is illegal. One reason for the FDA caution was seen in a study published in November 2002 in the “Journal of the American Medical Association,” where adverse effects of treatment were reported in up to 40 percent of the volunteers.

Side Effects Study

Several studies have tried to determine the efficacy of HGH and any potential side effects, with one of the most important being the 2002 JAMA study, conducted jointly by researchers from the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University over a period of 26 weeks. There were several common milder side effects from HGH supplements that included joint pain, swelling and carpal tunnel syndrome. The more serious side effects included an increase in glucose intolerance and diabetes among male subjects. None of the women developed those conditions, although they were more likely to suffer edema, a type of fluid retention that causes swelling. All side effects, even including diabetes, disappeared two to six weeks after treatment was discontinued.

Long-Term Effects

Human growth hormone has been used legally since the 1950s to treat children with a pituitary growth disorder. A study published in “Lancet” in July 2002 followed up 1,848 patients in the U.K. who were treated during childhood and early adulthood with HGH, between 1959 and 1985. Researchers found that the patients had significantly elevated risks of mortality from cancer overall and particularly from colorectal cancer and Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system. A separate study published in August 2004 in the “Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences” reported that production of HGH by breast cancer cells facilitated cellular growth that could be sufficient to cause breast cancers to become invasive and metastasize.


The lead investigator of the JAMA study, Marc R. Blackman, M.D., noted that results did suggest that growth hormone given in combination with testosterone in older men may one day be a promising treatment for certain age-related conditions. He says, “There is much that we still don't know about its efficacy and, more importantly, there are too many known and potential adverse consequences associated with it. It is a fascinating and promising area of research, but at this time we can't recommend it for use outside of a carefully controlled and monitored clinical trial.”

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