Human Growth Hormone (HGH), also known as somatotropin, is a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland that plays a crucial role in growth and metabolism.
In this guide, we will explore the functions of HGH, the factors that trigger its release, normal levels of HGH, and the potential consequences of having too little or too much of this important hormone.
Table of Contents
1. What is Human Growth Hormone (HGH)?
Human Growth Hormone (HGH), also known as somatotropin, is a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized endocrine gland located at the base of the brain. HGH acts as a messenger, coordinating various functions in the body by carrying signals through the bloodstream to organs, muscles, and tissues. While HGH is most commonly associated with promoting growth in children, it also plays a vital role in maintaining normal body structure and metabolism in adults.
2. The Role of HGH in Growth and Metabolism
During childhood, HGH stimulates growth in nearly every tissue and organ, with a particular emphasis on cartilage and bone development. It triggers the replication of chondrocytes in cartilage and osteoblasts in bones, enabling growth in size. However, once the growth plates in the bones have fused, HGH no longer increases height. Instead, it helps maintain normal body structure throughout one’s life.
Aside from its role in growth, HGH also influences metabolism. It primarily acts by increasing the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which has glucose-lowering effects and plays a critical role in managing the effects of HGH in the body. HGH impacts metabolism by converting the food we eat into energy through various complex processes.
3. Triggers of HGH Release
GHRH stimulates the pituitary gland to release HGH, while somatostatin inhibits its release.
HGH release is stimulated by sleep, stress, exercise, hypoglycemia, and amino acids, while hyperglycemia inhibits its release. These triggers create a complex feedback loop that regulates the secretion of HGH in healthy individuals.
4. The Functions of HGH
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) has two primary functions: stimulating growth during childhood and impacting metabolism throughout life.
HGH and Growth
HGH triggers growth in various tissues and organs, with a particular emphasis on cartilage and bone development. It stimulates the replication of chondrocytes in cartilage and osteoblasts in bones, promoting growth in size during childhood and puberty. However, once the growth plates have fused, HGH no longer increases height but helps maintain normal body structure.
HGH and Metabolism
HGH impacts metabolism by increasing the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 plays a crucial role in managing the effects of HGH in the body and has glucose-lowering effects similar to insulin. HGH and IGF-1 secretion are regulated by each other, creating a feedback loop. While HGH normally increases blood glucose levels when they are too low, excessive amounts of HGH can counteract the effects of insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels.
5. Can HGH Make You Taller?
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) increases vertical growth in children. However, once the growth plates have fused, HGH no longer has the ability to increase height. Therefore, after reaching adulthood and one’s final height, HGH helps maintain the body’s structure and has other important effects on metabolism.
6. What are normal levels of human growth hormone (HGH)?
The release of HGH occurs in pulses throughout the day and night, with the size and duration of the pulses varying based on age, sex, and time of day. Random HGH measurements are rarely useful in confirming or ruling out a diagnosis due to this pulsatile release pattern. Instead, healthcare providers rely on stimulation or suppression tests to measure HGH levels accurately.
In general, the normal range for HGH levels varies depending on age and sex:
- For adults assigned male at birth: 0.4 to 10 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) or 18 to 44 picomoles per liter (pmol/L).
- For adults assigned female at birth: 1 to 14 ng/mL or 44 to 616 pmol/L.
- For children: 10 to 50 ng/mL or 440 to 2200 pmol/L.
It is essential to consult your healthcare provider and refer to your lab’s normal range for accurate interpretation of test results.
7. Consequences of Low HGH Levels
Lower-than-normal levels of HGH, known as growth hormone deficiency, can result from issues with the pituitary gland or damage to its function. Growth hormone deficiency affects adults and children differently.
HGH Deficiency in Adults
In adults, HGH deficiency can lead to reduced well-being, increased body fat, an elevated risk of heart disease, and weakened heart, muscles, and bones. Hypopituitarism, which results in HGH deficiency, may be caused by a benign pituitary adenoma, damage to the pituitary gland, or hypothalamus.
HGH Deficiency in Children
Children with growth hormone deficiency experience poor growth, particularly in terms of height. Slow height growth, impaired hair growth, and delayed puberty are common signs of HGH deficiency in children. Hypopituitarism causing HGH deficiency in children can be present from birth, with causes ranging from idiopathic and genetic factors to injuries during fetal development or at birth.
8. Consequences of High HGH Levels
Higher-than-normal levels of HGH can lead to a condition called acromegaly, which affects adults and children differently.
Acromegaly in Adults
Adults with acromegaly often have enlarged hands and feet, altered facial features, thickened bones, and enlarged organs. They are also at a higher risk of conditions such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Most cases of acromegaly are caused by pituitary adenomas that produce excess amounts of HGH. Acromegaly occurs more commonly after middle-age when growth is complete, resulting in thicker bones rather than increased height.
Acromegaly in Children
Pediatric acromegaly, also known as gigantism, is a rare condition characterized by excessive growth of long bones and very tall height in children. If left untreated, children with acromegaly can grow to be seven feet tall or taller. Other symptoms may include general weakness, delayed puberty, and headaches. Pituitary adenomas are usually the cause of pediatric acromegaly.
9. Testing HGH Levels
Healthcare providers may order a series of blood tests to measure HGH levels accurately and diagnose conditions related to HGH deficiency or excess. Since HGH release occurs in pulses throughout the day and night, a single blood test may not be sufficient. Growth hormone stimulation and suppression tests, as well as measuring insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels, are commonly used to evaluate HGH levels.
10. HGH as Medication
The synthetic form of HGH, available only by prescription, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for specific medical conditions. Healthcare providers may prescribe synthetic HGH to treat growth hormone deficiency in children and adults, loss of muscle tissue from HIV, and short bowel syndrome. It is crucial to take synthetic HGH only under the supervision and prescription of a healthcare provider.
11. Side Effects of Synthetic HGH
The use of synthetic HGH for medical purposes can have certain side effects. These may include carpal tunnel syndrome, increased insulin resistance and/or Type 2 diabetes, swelling in the arms and legs (edema), joint and muscle pain, enlargement of breast tissue in individuals assigned male at birth (gynecomastia), and an increased risk of certain cancers. Long-term effects of HGH treatment are still being studied, and more information is needed.
12. When to Consult a Healthcare Provider
If you or your child are experiencing symptoms related to HGH deficiency or excess, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider. They can evaluate your symptoms, order appropriate tests, and provide guidance on treatment options. Regular follow-up with your healthcare provider is crucial if you are receiving treatment for abnormal HGH levels to ensure its effectiveness.
Note: While this guide provides comprehensive information about Human Growth Hormone (HGH), it is essential to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and personalized guidance.