The average man stands at 5 feet 10 inches. At 6 feet, you’re considered tall. At 7 feet 1’, you’re a Shaq-type freak of nature. At 7 feet 6’, you’re as tall as Yao Ming, and just an added inch to that at 7 feet 7’, and you’re as tall as the tallest ever basketball player, Manute Bol. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 5”6’ is considered short for a guy. But there are extreme cases, like Peter Dinklage, who stands at 4 feet 5’ and is considered a dwarf.
The point is, people have different heights, and these heights are made possible through a little chemical in the body known as the growth hormone. But this hormone does more than just influence height. It plays so many vital roles and is even important for bodybuilding. Here, we explore what this hormone is, and how it functions in our body.
What is Growth Hormone?
Growth hormone, also known as somatotropin, is a peptide hormone secreted in the anterior pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary. Growth hormone, as its name suggests, is responsible for the growth of all tissues in the body.
Growth hormone becomes activated in the womb and into childbirth. Its level rises progressively in childhood, and peaks in puberty during the growth spurt period. Growth hormone stops increasing height when the growth plates in the bones get fused. When the increase in height stops, growth hormone does not stop working, but it works in maintaining body structure, metabolism and keeping blood glucose level balanced.
Growth hormone (GH) opposes the action of insulin by stimulating protein synthesis and fat breakdown to provide the energy necessary for tissue growth. It may act directly on tissues but usually acts by stimulating liver cells to produce insulin-like growth factors that then act on cells to stimulate growth. After rising through childhood and into puberty, the levels of GH and IGF in the body progressively decrease, resulting in senescence (reverse growth) in old age.
The release of growth hormone is controlled by two hormones – growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), which is produced in the hypothalamus and stimulates the anterior pituitary to secrete and release GH; and somatostatin, produced in different cells, including the anterior pituitary. Somatostatin opposes the effects of GHRH and inhibits GH production and release.
The pituitary gland releases about 1-2 milligrams of GH every day. GH is released in a pulsatile fashion, with small amounts released every 3-5 hours. Growth hormone production increases during sleep, prolonged stress, or fasting. In contrast, the levels reduce in pregnancy.
Functions of Growth Hormones
Growth hormone performs many functions in the body, including;
- Maintaining body structure, composition, and metabolism.
- Enhancing growth in adolescents and children.
- Regulating body fluids, fats, and sugar metabolism in the body.
- Maintaining, building, and repairing tissue damage in the body
- Reducing body fat by increasing muscle mass and bone density.
- Increasing overall energy.
When growth hormone is supplied optimally, it helps you stay happy, maintain your overall wellbeing, reduce cholesterol, inflammation, allows you to cope and handle stress well, keeps your heart healthy and helps you heal faster. In bodybuilding, growth hormone helps you lose body fat, build muscle mass, metabolize fat and protein and synthesize amino acids.
Deficiency and Excess
Growth hormone deficiency is the underproduction of growth hormone in the body, leading to poor growth and development of tissues and features. This deficiency may be present at birth (congenital), causing children to have abnormally short stature with normal body proportions.
Acquired deficiency may be the result of a pituitary injury or tumors. This may cause delayed puberty, reduced bone strength, sensitivity to hot or cold weather, constant fatigue etc. Growth hormone deficiency significantly affects physical and mental well-being. It causes increased fat deposition, reduced bone and muscle strength, and reduced confidence due to underdevelopment.
On the other hand, the body may produce excessive amounts of growth hormone. This can result in gigantism when it occurs in children, or acromegaly when it occurs in adults. Excessive GH production is usually caused by a noncancerous pituitary tumor. Children with gigantism grow extremely tall, with proportionate body parts. Puberty may be delayed and sexual organs may not form fully. They may also suffer from joint pains, have an enlarged heart and sweat profusely.
Acromegaly is basically gigantism starting in adulthood. Rather than causing increased height, only the bones in the hands, feet and face increase, resulting in feature changes like protruding jaws, extra-large sized hands and feet etc. Like gigantism, acromegaly can result in several health disorders including; pain and limited motion, erectile dysfunction, heart problems, vision problems etc.
Every growth hormone disorder can be corrected if they’re identified early.
Increasing Growth Hormone Levels Naturally.
Growth hormone levels in the body maintain a baseline level. However, regulated increases may help with certain activities like bodybuilding. Growth hormone levels also need to be boosted when GH production is low. The following natural methods help boost GH production in the body;
1. Healthy Eating
Healthy eating provides the fuel for all of your body’s engines to run properly, and that includes growth hormones. Healthy food helps to keep your growth hormone production stable by tracking your insulin level and body fats. To maintain a stable growth hormone production in the body, you should consider eating melatonin-rich foods like fish, nuts, grapes, mustard seeds, eggs, tomatoes, and raspberries. Melatonin helps you sleep, increasing growth hormone production in the process.
2. Cut Down on Sugar Intake
High sugar intake increases insulin production., which antagonizes growth hormone action and blocks growth hormone production. Since GH excesses may result in diabetes, it is important to strike a balance between the levels of both hormones. This necessitates a regulation in sugar intake.
3. Intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting reduces the blood levels of free sugar, which reduces insulin levels, resulting in increased growth hormone levels. Studies show that intermittent fasting can increase GH levels by up to 300%.
Asides from increasing GH levels, fasting helps reduce body fat and lose weight. Fasting enables you to watch your diet, which plays an important role in regulating your GH production.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.
Growth hormone production increases when asleep. Having a good night’s sleep gives the pituitary the environment it needs to up growth hormone production. Thus, improving your sleep quality or sleep amount can help boost your GH production.
Synthetic Human Growth Hormone
Synthetic HGH was approved by the FDA to treat certain growth and development disorders in children. This form of growth hormone is also approved for treating conditions like muscle wasting in HIV/AIDS, GH deficiency due to tumors etc.
Asides from their approved FDA uses, synthetic HGH is used for a number of off-label purposes, especially by athletes and bodybuilders. Synthetic HGH in this context is used to bulk muscle and enhance performance. This use has put synthetic HGH on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List. Outside of athletics, HGH is used as an anti-aging drug, but this use is not FDA approved.
Uses of Synthetic Human Growth Hormone
The FDA approved the use of synthetic human growth hormones for children are:
- Short stature
- Poor growth
- Turner’s syndrome that affects a child’s development
- Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that muscle tone,
- Low levels of sex hormones,
- Constant feeling of hunger
- Chronic kidney disease
- Natural HDH deficiency
- Children born small for gestational age
For adults, they are used in treating the following:
- Short bowel syndrome
- HGH deficiency as a result of rare pituitary tumors
- Muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS
Off-label, sometimes illegal uses of synthetic HGH include;
- Anti-aging therapy
- Boosting muscle bulking for bodybuilding
- Improving athletic performance
- Several other claims like reducing fat, improving immunity, normalizing blood sugar etc. However, none of these claims have substantial proof to them.
Side Effects of Synthetic HGH
Unapproved use or abuse of synthetic HGH comes with some serious side effects, including;
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Nerve, muscle, or joint pain
- High cholesterol levels
- Numbness and tingling of the skin
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of malignancies.
Human Growth Hormone Booster Supplements
Supplements containing glutamine, creatine, ornithine, L-dopa, and glycine may help boost GH levels in the body. These supplements are different from and safer than synthetic HGH. Besides, they play important roles in regulating other body systems.
So, a safe alternative to using synthetic, possibly dangerous drugs off-label, is to use these drugs. They may have the benefits, but you definitely avoid the side effects of synthetic HGH.
Human Growth Hormone for Bodybuilding
Growth hormone’s natural effects make it attractive as a bodybuilding enhancer. It helps reduce body fat, promotes tissue building and repair, and bulks lean mass.
Because of these effects, some athletes and bodybuilders use synthetic growth hormone, typically in combination with anabolic steroids, to enhance their performance. However, no research has been able to prove that growth hormone truly enhances performance. In terms of its ability to yield attractive muscle growth, experts note that the change in lean mass happens with the water compartment, rather than in cells, indicating possible deleterious side-effects for users.
One study that compared HGH use against resistance exercises, found that the latter produced superior lean body mass gain, muscle size increase and strength in men. Add to the plethora of side effects associated with synthetic HGH use, and we see that it is not a good choice for bodybuilding enhancement.
However, if you feel an extra GH boost will make some difference for you, try boosting your GH levels naturally, or using supplements like glutamate that naturally boost GH levels.
There is a yin-yang relationship between natural growth hormone levels and workouts. While workouts help to regulate and even increase GH secretion, GH helps to improve exercise performance, endurance and aid repair.
There is no need to get greedy with it. Except there’s a medical need for it, you do not need synthetic HGH to aid your bodybuilding exploits. Always speak to your doctor before using any HGH booster. Remember to eat well, sleep well and cut down on sugars, and your pituitary will produce all the growth hormone you need