Recently I have been asked if I would personally use human growth hormone (HGH) for health and performance knowing that potentially it could cut down on total life span. The old quality versus quantity debate is what this comes down to in my mind. Is it possible to optimize performance without compromising longevity? That really would be the holy grail now, wouldn't it? This article will explore that question as well as give practical measures you can incorporate into your life to attempt that delicate balance of high-performance while mitigating risk to longevity.
IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor-1) is your serum blood marker for the amount of Growth hormone produced by your pituitary (a small pea sized gland in the brain). Like all hormones growth hormone and IGF-1 are high in youth and decrease as we age. In the scientific literature, there is some controversy regarding the role of IGF-1, aging and its trade-off between performance and longevity. It is undeniable that IGF-1 is anabolic (growth promoting) it promotes or enhances the growth and repair of skeletal muscle, promotes lean muscle growth, and decreases adipose (fat) tissue. If that wasn't impressive enough, IGF-1 is also neuroprotective meaning it prevents and protects nerve cells in the brain against damage and impairment. This age-related decline in growth hormone and IGF-1 levels have been shown to cause muscle atrophy as well as neuronal loss. However, growth hormone replacement therapy in senior men has been shown to increase lean muscle mass while decreasing adipose tissue. Growth hormone therapy in adults with mild cognitive impairment has been demonstrated to boost executive cognitive function and increased verbal memory. So is there a way to effectively increase and optimize your IGF-1 levels, as it turns out yes there is.
Strenuous exercise, increase in muscle mass has routinely been shown to boost growth hormone levels however there is a tendency to become acclimated to strenuous exercise and not release as much growth hormone over time. This I think is obvious to all of us gym rats that had seen fairly impressive and rapid results when we first started and slower (yet still impressive) results the longer we have trained. Sauna therapy is another effective way to boost your growth hormone through heat shock protein release. In fact, a single 30-minute session has been shown to cause a rapid increase in growth hormone levels as much as 140%. I know what you think this sounds too good to be true, who wouldn't want to increase lean muscle, have less fat and a better brain.
Well Here comes the trade-off. A possible trade off because it is mainly shown only in worms and flies, that decreasing IGF-1 and growth hormone levels lead to a 50% extension in lifespan. 50% is a huge number that could never be seen in humans. It was also shown the opposite to be true if you over-expressed the secretion of growth hormone you reduce the life span (in mice) by 50%.
That's mice and worms so what about humans, well genetic variation that are associated with the IGF-1 receptor gene which decreases the IGF-1 levels are related to the longevity in those that live over 90 years. Reducing expression of IGF-1 levels have been shown to increase the expression of genes involved in stress resistance particularly oxidative damage. Oxidative damage puts wear and tear on almost every tissue in our body and our DNA. So if you can boost the expression antioxidant genes, you may stave off this damage, and it will extend your lifespan. Caution should be taken to decrease your growth hormone or IGF-1 levels through means like calorie restriction. There some downsides including stunted growth, reduce fertility, brain and muscle atrophy as well as diminished sex drive. So while all of these things can make you live longer, I would argue that in this case, it is a bad thing because your quality of life is diminished.
There are natural ways you can increase the expression of growth hormone and IGF-1 to amplify physical and cognitive performance, while at the same time increasing longevity. Protein, especially Whey protein during resistance training and casein protein before bed. High-quality dairy protein has a high content of amino acids and is especially high in Leucine. These amino acids are easily absorbed and have a pronounced effect on muscle protein synthesis which helps build lean muscle and burn fat. Another dairy protein produced by all mammals after giving birth colostrum is a nutrient powerhouse that has been shown to restore IGF-1 levels when there is a deficiency in growth factors. Vitamin D deficiency also has been demonstrated to be related to low IGF-1 levels, have your vitamin D levels tested and optimize your intake. Hormesis boosts the expression of antioxidant genes by exposing yourself to something that would otherwise be toxic in fact this is the mechanism of action of catechins and polyphenols. (think what ever doesn't kill you make you stronger).
So there you have it, there's a trade-off when it comes to growth hormone and IGF-1. More of it enhances muscle and neuronal growth while simultaneously saving off atrophy, and less of it increases the expression of genes involved in stress resistance while extending lifespan. My advice is boost your lean muscle mass and increase neurogenesis through strenuous exercise (go to the gym and lift heavy things). Increase the expression of your genes that are involved in stress resistance by using sauna therapy or cold thermogenesis and by consuming your favorite polyphenols such as green tea, chocolate, turmeric, and purple fruits along with a healthy balanced diet (low or no processed foods) and leave the caloric restriction for the mice.
Final thought on prescription growth hormone therapy aka HGH or IGF-1 injections. You can ask you physician to check your IGF-1 levels to determine deficiency. While I am a big believer in hormone replacement therapy for restoring your health, growth hormone is a highly regulated substance that hasn't been approved for anti-aging treatment. Because of this before you see a doctor or clinic that offers this therapy, please do your research to make sure you are getting what you are paying for. You should also ask questions to make sure the physician or clinic not only knows how to correctly dose the growth hormone but is acutely aware of how to balance your growth hormone while limiting any potential damage.
Disclaimer: I AM NOT A PHYSICIAN, AND THIS POST IS NOT MEANT TO REPLACE PROPER MEDICAL TREATMENT. Make an appointment today for your personalized nutrition consultation. I will create a customized functional nutrition program for you and together we will start we will start you on your wellness journey. I STRONGLY URGE ANYBODY INTERESTED IN HGH TO CONTACT A QUALIFIED MEDICAL DOCTOR TO OVERSEE AND SUPERVISE TREATMENT. If you live in the NYC or LONG ISLAND are you can contact me for physician names qualified to help in GH therapy.