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What Is HGH? (Effectiveness, Side Effects, Availability)

Jordan Smith
Published by Jordan Smith
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: April 23, 2023
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Human growth hormone (HGH) is a naturally occurring peptide hormone, and it plays a key role in regulating cell growth in humans.

The largest natural fluctuations happen in childhood, where HGH helps with muscle and bone growth, as well as the growth of all other organs of the body.

And it’s that growth effect that creates a huge temptation for athletes to resort to HGH treatment drugs to boost their strength and muscle development.

The problem is that medical treatments come with significant side effects, so I got together with an experienced endocrinologist to research what it does to the body and why it’s a risky choice for athletes.

Quick Summary

  • Human growth hormone (HGH) is a peptide hormone that helps repair, maintain, and build body cells in organs, muscles, and bones.
  • Studies reveal that HGH can enhance an athlete's body composition, and overall performance.
  • The side effects of misusing HGH are joint pain, muscle pain, fluid retention, numb skin, high LDL cholesterol levels, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Does Human Growth Hormone Do?

A bottle of human growth hormones

Human growth hormone helps to repair, build, and maintain body cells in bones, muscles, and organs.

While the levels naturally fluctuate with age, HGH treatments are predominantly used to deal with certain medical conditions that have impacted bone and muscle wasting [1].

There are also other diseases that can directly influence HGH and sex hormones, e.g., a pituitary tumor [2].

While HGH treatments are only designed and approved for use in such diseases, many athletes resort to injecting HGH to improve athletic performance and body composition.

Related: Is HGH a Steroid?

How Is HGH Linked To The Pituitary Gland?

HGH is linked to the pituitary gland as it is the body part that is in charge of regulating how much of the hormone is released [3].

Patients with an HGH deficiency can either be experiencing issues with this gland itself, or there might be an issue with the supply of growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) [4].

GHRH essentially sends the signal to increase or decrease the release of HGH and acts as a regulator.

It’s important to understand that HGH and another hormone-insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are closely tied as the second manages the effects of the first, so they have a direct impact on cell growth and metabolism [5].

Signs Of Growth Hormone Deficiency

A boy holding a ball in a gym

The most common type of HGH deficiency is called idiopathic HGH deficiency, and it predominantly affects children [6].

Typical symptoms are slow growth and a height that is in the lowest 5th percentile.

It can also delay puberty and cause long-term issues into adulthood.

In order to treat poor growth in children, physicians often use synthetic HGH to increase muscle mass and bone development to a more normal level.

In adults, such a deficiency is a lot more difficult to diagnose, but it can often include early-onset osteoporosis [7].

HGH Misuse Side Effects

A man holding a syringe

Taking HGH comes with an increased risk of several different side effects that can range in severity depending on the dose and how long people end up taking such drugs.

Doctors carefully monitor these side effects [1]:

  • Muscle Pain
  • Joint Pain
  • Fluid retention
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tingling and numb skin
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Heart Disease

Is HGH Banned For Athletes?

Yes, HGH is banned for professional athletes.

All human growth hormone injections are classed as performance-enhancing drugs.

The main reason is that it gives an unfair advantage as synthetic HGH injections can help repair and build muscle mass more quickly and enhance athletic performance.

It can also positively influence body fat, which is why bodybuilders often decide to take it [8].

Athletes have been favoring HGH as it’s a lot more difficult to detect in standard drug tests.

And in many cases, tests can only pick it up within 48 hours of taking it [10].

“Lab-produced growth hormone looks almost exactly like the stuff we make in our bodies. It has the same sequence of amino acids, and it stays in the bloodstream for the same amount of time. It’s much easier to suss out a steroid user; synthetic steroids don’t have the same structure as their natural kin.”

- Daniel Engber, Columnist at


Is Hgh a Steroid?

No, HGH is not a steroid even though people often bundle growth hormones and steroids into one category. HGH is a protein hormone that doesn’t have the same androgenic effects like steroids and testosterone.

Will Hgh Make Me Gain Weight?

Yes, HGH will make you gain weight. And without a strict exercise routine, that gain can predominantly be in the form of fat rather than muscle.

Avoiding The Temptation Of HGH Use

Unless you’ve been medically diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, there is no legitimate reason to take HGH.

There are significant risks involved, and there is increasing interest in sports organizations to introduce more stringent testing.

The safer alternative is to take natural HGH boosting supplements. These contain researched vitamins, minerals, and herbs that directly influence your body’s HGH release without adding illegal and banned substances.

While the results don’t come within a few days, you can still achieve considerable muscle gains in the medium to long-term.

It’s the best option if you need a boost to get to your fitness goals faster.


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