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Sales of human-growth hormones widespread, study finds
Scripps Howard News Service


October 26, 2005

Sales of human growth hormone to treat aging or age-associated illnesses has become widespread in the United States, even though it is illegal to sell it for such an "off-label" use, researchers reported Wednesday.

"Physicians and other health care professionals should be aware that current law explicitly prohibits the distribution of growth hormone except for clearly and narrowly defined indications," the team wrote in a paper published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Human growth hormone is released by the pituitary gland to spur growth and development in children and teens. As a drug, it can be legally prescribed only for three conditions: hormonal deficiency that causes short stature in children; adult deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or their treatment, and to treat muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS.

Yet numerous Web sites, publications and anti-aging clinics market the hormone with claims that it can stop and reverse aging and provide such benefits as improved nail and hair growth, better sleep, improved skin tone, better digestion, increased strength, weight loss, better eyesight and enhanced sexual performance.

"Prescribing and administering HGH has become a routine intervention in an industry that is variably called anti-aging, regenerative, longevity or age-management medicine," said Dr. Thomas Perls, lead author of the report and director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor at the Boston University Medical School.

"Hundreds of thousands of patients who have received HGH in recent years as a purported treatment for aging are unaware that they are receiving the drug illegally," Perls added.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has strict controls and penalties for prescribing the hormone for non-approved uses, and Congress has also specifically authorized the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to investigate illegal distribution of HGH.

Yet the researchers note that a Google search of "HGH" and "anti-aging" near the end of September drew more than 3.4 million hits, many of them for Web sites and clinics selling the growth hormone.

The team cites estimates from within the anti-aging industry that at least 100,000 Americans obtain the drug without a prescription each year. According to the pharmaceutical market research firm IMS Health, more than 212,000 retail and mail prescriptions were written for class of hormones that includes HGH, with 74 percent written for individuals aged 20 and older.

Several studies have shown that by taking the hormone, older people, mostly men, can increase muscle mass, reduce body fat and limit bone loss, but the effects drop off for most individuals after about two years. A number of dangerous side effects have been reported from taking the drug for long periods, including nerve pain and elevated cholesterol and glucose levels.

Perls said, "There is no evidence that HGH administration stops or reverses aging. On the contrary, responsibly conducted and peer-reviewed science indicates that HGH could in fact accelerate aging and shorten lifespan." Among the possible long-term side effects from taking the hormone is an increased risk of cancer, he noted.

Although HGH is only effective when its injected, anti-aging marketers sell pills, sprays and creams purported to contain the hormone, at costs ranging from $200 to $1,000 a month. One Web site alone was estimated by the Federal Trade Commission to have generated more than $70 million for products that either claimed to contain HGH or were supposed to stimulate its production.

"Millions of dollars in profits are made off of useless pills and sprays like these," Perls said. "You might as well be paying hundreds of dollars for sand and water."


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Contact Lee Bowman at BowmanL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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