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Biology 202
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HGH: Fountain of Youth?

Kate Lauber

What is aging? It is a question that has been puzzling doctors for centuries. In a culture so obsessed with youth, it is not surprising that science asks this question often. It is also not surprising that the anti-aging product market is a booming multi-million dollar phenomenon. We will pay thousands for procedures that make us thinner, stronger, more full of energy and less wrinkled. The new emphasis of the advertising world is not just looking young, but feeling young too. A large importance is placed on energy, vitality and mental awareness. In a time in our society where the 'baby boomer' generation is approaching their mid 50's, and the number of elderly Americans is substantially increasing, we begin to ask ourselves if growing old has to mean being frail, confused, weak, fatigued and depressed. In many elderly people, the neuronal changes of aging are some of the hardest to deal with. Loss of mental acuity, confusion, forgetfulness and depression are some of the most common complaints about the aging process. Is there a way to avoid these neuronal changes, or at least to slow them down? If there is a 'fountain of youth' that medicine can provide then many Americans will be lining up to get a first try at its effects.

The nervous system is classically one of the most misunderstood systems in relation to normal aging. In the normal aging process of the nervous system significant nerve cell mass is lost. This loss of mass causes atrophy of the brain and spinal cord. The number of neurons in a aging person, as well as the number of dendritic connections, is markedly decreased from that of a young adult (1). Neurons also begin to demyelinate within the aging process. These changes in the nervous system can slow the speed of message transmission. Similarly, aging increases the latency period between brain actions making a elderly persons' thought process slower. (1) Slowing of thought and memory are seen to be a normal part of aging (1) As nerves degenerate, reflexes to both physical and mental stimuli may also be reduced or lost. These are some of the normal nervous system changes that occur throughout the aging process. Scientists now believe that there may be a way to reduce or reverse the effects of normal aging on the body. What is this 'fountain of youth'? It's name is HGH.

Human Growth Hormone, HGH, is produced by the anterior pituitary under glandular and chemical instructions from the hypothalamus. HGH was discovered in the 1920's and first isolated in 1956. It is chemically very similar to insulin and, like all hormones, naturally declines with age. HGH has been shown to decline with age in every animal species tested to date. In humans, the amount of growth hormone after age 31 falls about 24 % per decade, so that total 24-hour growth hormone production is cut by 75% by the age of 60 (2). According to proponents of HGH replacement therapy, the fact that Human Growth Hormone production is reduced significantly as we age is a major factor in aging (2). According to HGH marketers, a decline of HGH in the body contributes to the following aging factors: 1. Thin skin and skin wrinkles. While HGH promotes and increases in the synthesis of new protein tissue. 2. Muscle wasting. 3. Abdominal fat. While HGH is involved in the fat metabolism equation. 4. Poor sleep. 5. Cognitive changes. Such as loss of mental acuity 6. Mood changes. 7. Decreasing energy. 8. Lessened Sexual performance. 40% of the participants of a recent study reported increased libido (2). How does one stop these changes from happening? According to some, investing in hormone replacement of HGH has remarkable effects.

The goldrush all began on July 5th 1990, when America's most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a human clinical study that changed the world of anti-aging medicine forever. In this article, Dr. Daniel Rudman, MD reported the results of their 6-month trial of synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) with 12 elderly men, aged 61 to 81. Surprisingly, without any change in diet, exercise, lifestyle, etc., the 12 men gained muscle, lost fat, and increased their bone density. In effect, HGH reversed the biological age of the subjects by 10 to 20 years (3). Previous to this study, HGH had been restricted to administration in children whose growth had been stunted and to people whose pituitary glands had been damaged by illness or injury (3). Since that landmark research was published, many subsequent studies have shown similar effects of HGH on aging, especially neuronal aging effects. HGH has been shown to benefit the brain and mind in many ways (3). Scientists have discovered HGH receptors in different parts of the brain and their effects, when occupied, seem to reduce symptoms associated with aging. Researchers have found that HGH seems to rebalance neurotransmitter levels, increasing mood elevating levels of beta-endorphin. Simultaneous to this effect, HGH alters mood by lowering excessive dopamine levels which produces feelings of agitation, irritability - or the "grumpy old man" effect (3). Subsequent research with both pituitary damaged HGH deficient adults, as well as age related deficient adults, has consistently shown an antidepressant, mood elevating HGH effect. Many patients with removed or damaged pituitaries were depressed, socially isolated, passive and pessimistic. After HGH treatment, many of these adults became sociable, friendly, outgoing people (3). Neuroscientists have also found evidence in both humans and animals that HGH may actually reverse the typical brain atrophy that occurs with age. While nerve cell death is an effect of aging, the larger issue is that the myriad of dendritic connections between neurons disappear with age. This continuous web of connections is the very basis of all learning and memory. HGH seems to stimulate various nerve growth factors in the brain, which in turn cause new dendrites to sprout and help reverse one of the major issues of nervous system aging (3).

Is it too good to be true? Maybe. At large doses HGH has some side effects. Large doses of HGH are often associated with signs of HGH excess, including fluid retention, carpal tunnel, and hypertension (4). However, at smaller doses only minor side effects including slight fluid retention and mild joint pain are reported. Doctors warn that HGH administration is not studied enough and we have no idea what long-term administration could mean for the body (5). For many people it's a question of how much you are willing to risk to look and feel young again. At a cost at about 1000 dollars a month for HGH replacement therapy many are risking financial well being to have a chance to drink out of the proverbial 'fountain of youth.' But, with so many flocking to get a hold of HGH and it's anti-aging effects the question of whether or not it's worth it seems to be answered.

WWW Sources

1) , Aging Changes in the Nervous System

2)HGH Reports , Website to learn about and purchase HGH

3)International Anti-aging Systems, Article by James South

4), Doctor on the Internet

5)ABCNews, Transcript of ABC News 20/20 report on HGH

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