Growth hormone (GH) or somatotropin, also known as human growth hormone (hGH or HGH) in its human form, is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals. It is thus important in human development. GH also stimulates production of IGF-1 and increases the concentration of glucose and free fatty acids. It is a type of mitogen which is specific only to the receptors on certain types of cells. GH is a 191-amino acid, single-chain polypeptide that is synthesized, stored and secreted by somatotropic cells within the lateral wings of the anterior pituitary gland.
The names somatotropin (STH) or somatotropic hormone refer to the growth hormone produced naturally in animals and extracted from carcasses. Hormone extracted from human cadavers is abbreviated hGH. The main growth hormone produced by recombinant DNA technology has the approved generic name (INN) somatropin and the brand name Humatrope, and is properly abbreviated rhGH in the scientific literature. Since its introduction in 1992 Humatrope has been a banned sports doping agent, and in this context is referred to as HGH.
The most common disease of GH excess is a pituitary tumor composed of somatotroph cells of the anterior pituitary. These somatotroph adenomas are benign and grow slowly, gradually producing more and more GH. For years, the principal clinical problems are those of GH excess. Eventually, the adenoma may become large enough to cause headaches, impair vision by pressure on the optic nerves, or cause deficiency of other pituitary hormones by displacement.
Prolonged GH excess thickens the bones of the jaw, fingers and toes, resulting in heaviness of the jaw and increased size of digits, referred to as acromegaly. Accompanying problems can include sweating, pressure on nerves, muscle weakness, excess sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), insulin resistance or even a rare form of type 2 diabetes, and reduced sexual function.
The first description of the use of GH as a doping agent was Dan Duchaine's "Underground Steroid handbook" which emerged from California in 1982; it is not known where and when GH was first used this way. Athletes in many sports have used human growth hormone in order to attempt to enhance their athletic performance. Some recent studies have not been able to support claims that human growth hormone can improve athletic performance of professional male athletes. Many athletic societies ban the use of GH and will issue sanctions against athletes who are caught using it. However, because GH is a potent endogenous protein, it is very difficult to detect GH doping. In the United States, GH is legally available only by prescription from a medical doctor.
Several studies, primarily involving patients with GH deficiency, have suggested a crucial role of GH in both mental and emotional well-being and maintaining a high energy level. Adults with GH deficiency often have higher rates of depression than those without. While GH replacement therapy has been proposed to treat depression as a result of GH deficiency, the long-term effects of such therapy are unknown. GH has also been studied in the context of cognitive function, including learning and memory. GH in humans appears to improve cognitive function and may be useful in the treatment of patients with cognitive impairment that is a result of GH deficiency.
To capitalize on the idea that GH might be useful to combat aging, companies selling dietary supplements have websites selling products linked to GH in the advertising text, with medical-sounding names described as "HGH Releasers". Typical ingredients include amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and/or herbal extracts, the combination of which are described as causing the body to make more GH with corresponding beneficial effects.
In the United States, because these products are marketed as dietary supplements, it is illegal for them to contain GH, which is a drug. Also, under United States law, products sold as dietary supplements cannot have claimed that the supplement treats or prevents any disease or condition, and the advertising material must contain a statement that the health claims are not approved by the FDA. The FTC and the FDA do enforce the law when they become aware of violations.
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