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Human growth hormone can turn back your body’s internal clock, helping you rapidly build muscle, slash fat, and increase libido, all while sending energy levels through the roof. But when it comes to discussions on HGH, there are often more questions than answers. To help you decide whether you need HGH, check out our straightforward Q&A, which answers some of the more commonly asked questions and learn how you can boost your own natural levels of this powerful anabolic hormone.
The body naturally produces growth hormone (HGH or simply GH) in the pituitary gland, and, as its name implies, it is responsible for cell growth and regeneration. Increasing muscle mass and bone density are impossible without GH, but it also plays a major role in maintaining the health of all human tissue, including that of the brain and other vital organs. When secreted, GH remains active in the bloodstream for only a few minutes, but this is enough time for the liver to convert it into growth factors, the most crucial of which is insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1, which boasts a host of anabolic properties. Scientists began to harvest GH from the pituitary glands of cadavers in the 1950s, but didn’t synthesize the first HGH in laboratories until 1981, with its use as a performance-enhancing drug becoming popular shortly thereafter.
Healthy adult men typically have just less than 5 nanograms per milliliter circulating in the blood. Healthy females can produce about twice that amount for child-bearing purposes. Levels for both sexes peak during puberty and drop sharply starting in the early 20s.
Ask your doctor to perform a GH test. You’ll need to fast for a simple blood test that is not unlike the one administered during an annual physical.
Remember when creatine was billed by the mainstream media as potentially dangerous? Now it’s the most heavily researched supplement in the world, and studies bear out the fact that it’s one of the safest and most effective supplements you can take. Medical professionals say that the dangers surrounding HGH are similarly overblown. “Complications [with HGH use] are very minimal,” says Eric Braverman, M.D., who specializes in anti-aging at Path Medical Center in New York City. “Some people experience fluid retention, and a blood sugar rise, but even these are very rare unless you take a lot. Only a few people ever come in with big feet or big livers—from mega-doses—and they weren’t my patients. It’s very rare.”
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Aside from GH’s crucial role in building muscle mass, not all of its benefits are necessarily evident to the naked eye. GH has been shown to slow the progression of age-related degenerative diseases, as well as increase sex drive, help maintain mental acuity, and engender a general sense of well-being. The flip side of the coin—low GH—can result in the exact opposite: muscle loss, fat gain, low sex drive and energy levels, and a poor sense of well-being.
HGH can be obtained only through a doctor’s prescription in the United States. Anti-aging clinics like Braverman’s specialize in identifying GH deficiencies and making the diagnosis. For those who lack GH sensitivity, a doctor may prescribe pure IGF-1. Although not uncommon, obtaining HGH through illegal means can be dangerous—you can’t be certain of what you’re actually getting—and very expensive.
Two major factors that contribute to increased GH levels are ones you can control without drugs: weight training and proper sleep. The more you exercise, the more GH you release naturally. A recent study observed significant increases in circulating GH and IGF-1 after intense resistance exercise in a group of trained men but found no significant diferences in untrained men who performed the same workout. GH is also secreted while you sleep, and studies have shown a spike in GH levels at the onset of deep sleep, so getting the recommended seven to nine hours per night is essential to maintaining GH. Diet is the third major factor in keeping GH levels topped off. It’s necessary to eat a balanced diet. Eating to stay lean is also key; fat gain leads to low levels of GH.
While a multivitamin may give you some of the nutrients needed to provide a small boost in GH levels, a new study reveals that arginine and glutamine can dramatically raise GH levels, but only if taken in proper ratios. You could try to mix these aminos yourself, but if you want something proven to work, you need a specialty supplement. One of our favorites is Growth Factor-9, the only supplement proven to provide a mean GH increase of 682% in a wide range of study subjects.
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The following list breaks down GH-boosting agents into seven categories: vitamins, minerals, amino acids, hormones, vital agents, herbs and botanicals, and adaptogenic herbs.
Many of the items listed here—such as vitamins A, B5, B12, chromium, and zinc—can be found in a daily multivitamin. Amino acids such as arginine, glutamine, and taurine are in many of our favorite pre- and post-workout supplements. Others, such as the hormone CHEA, the botanical extract chrysin, and the adaptogenic herb panaz ginseng, might not be part of the common products you already take but are sold separately.
Everything listed here is backed by years of research supporting its efficacy.
*Braverman says that real HGH is the only way to go if you truly have a deficiency, but added, “There’s no question that when you take other hormones—testosterone, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone—lots of people get growth hormone increases.”
(Herbs with multiple, nonspecific actions that generally promote overall wellness)