Human growth hormone debate continues – Elixir opinion

Hormone rejuvenation therapy has hit the headlines again. This time a London doctor claimed that both he and his wife had rejuvenated themselves by using the controversial human growth hormone (Hgh).

The use of this hormone, which is replicated by several pharmaceutical companies, is licenced in most countries only for the treatment of children with what is commonly known as dwarfism, adults with abnormally low levels – this does not include the low levels associated with ageing, and for certain symptoms of AIDs. Hgh which is produced by the pituitary gland, helps maintain weight control, sex drive, energy and mental clarity and begins to decline from the age of 30.

The use of this hormone, to counter the effects of ageing, is not a new practice and doctors may prescribe it “off-licence/off-label” if the patient signs a disclaimer. But even then the doctor is not off the hook. Should the patient develop side effects in future – and cancer may be one – a doctor may have a future claim against him – but his professional liability insurance may refuse to pay up.

In recent months the practice of prescribing Hgh to counter the effects of ageing has caused a huge debacle in the US where the practice is far more widespread, particularly in the anti-ageing practices of Beverly Hills and New York. On one side is the growing anti-ageing medical movement versus peers who view the practice of prescribing it for rejuvenation as illegal.

Fearing prosecution by the country’s drug watchdog, the Food & Drug Administration, very few are now openly admitting to prescribing Hgh to patients. Anti-ageing doctors in London have become embroiled in this debate and the few who do have now gone “underground” for fear of being hauled before the General Medical Council, the legal body to whom UK doctors answer.

The popularity of Hgh as a rejuvenation treatment followed an experiment in the US in 1990 when a group of 12 men aged over 60 years saw dramatic changes in their bodies as signs of ageing melted away. In the Rudman Study, named after Dr Daniel Rudman, fat turned to lean muscle, bone density increased, skin became thicker and the men looked generally dramatically younger. Their sex drive also increased. They were monitored for adverse effects but there were none.

The serious issue with these new claims is that many gullible people will no doubt contact this publicity-seeking doctor for a treatment that will cost thousands of pounds and may do themselves more harm than good. His bid for cheap publicity also compromises those healthy ageing doctors who have been responsible in treating patients with Hgh. It may also mean as has happened in the US, when goverment health watchdogs interfere the right of an individual to opt for these treatments is taken away.

The prescribing of Hgh, like any form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), is highly individual as each person’s body reacts differently. For example, oestrogen and testosterone, can both promote cancer in certain individuals and a good doctor will take regular tests to find the right balance during a HRT course for any abnormalities. Unfortunately, as far as we are aware this precise monitoring is not available from Britain’s state health service, the NHS.

One of the problems with Hgh is that there have been no long term studies on its effects ie the monitoring of individuals who have taken this hormone as any side effects may not manifest themselves for years afterwards. Having said that the doctors who prescribe claim that moderate doses for short periods are not harmful.

What most of the publicity neglected to tell readers is that the human body’s production of Hgh is stimulated by exercise. So we do to some extent have it in our power to self-rejuvenate no matter what our age and without the need for experiment.