Before 1980 growth hormone was a purified extract of dead peoples' pituitary glands. After 1985, technology allowed an unlimited supply of growth hormone as a bio-synthetic preparation. The use of growth hormone has expanded from those children with absent growth hormone to a variety of other conditions. These include short kids with kidney disease, girls with Turner syndrome and adults with severe growth hormone deficiency.

Growth hormone levels reduce as one gets older and some consider this similar to reduced sex hormone levels in women. Women undergo menopause when their estrogen levels fall. Some refer to reduced growth hormone levels as somatopause.

Since the growth hormone in elderly is low and growth hormone does reverse some of the effects of aging, some people have considered using it for anti-aging.

Studies in older persons show that growth hormone can increase bone density, increase muscle size, reduce belly fat, lower cholesterol and increase stamina. Sounds great, doesn't it? But it's too good to be true.

What are the downsides? Besides being expensive ($10,000 per year), growth hormone treatment consists of daily injections. It does not come as a pill although popular websites promote oral forms of growth hormone. Also, there are some rare side effects that need to be monitored. These side effects include swelling in feet and wrists, headache, muscle pain, breast enlargement in men and worsening of diabetes.

Furthermore, research has found that exercising is very effective in increasing muscle mass and strength - and much cheaper.

At this time, it is reserved for use in an adult with severe deficiency. If an adult with a severe problem is not treated, he or she can develop fragile bones, high cholesterol and heart disease.

In summary, maintain daily exercise and a healthy diet. This can have many of the same effects as injecting with growth hormone without the side effects.

A good source of information is The MAGIC Foundation (www.magicfoundation.org). Avoid a generic Internet search of growth hormone unless you want to review about 16 million sites.

Dr. Khalid Hasan of Pediatric Endocrine Gilbert can be reached at (480) 821-2883 or visit pegilbert.com.

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