Several patients have asked about using human growth hormone (HGH) to improve skin tone, help prevent easy bruising, and improve general well-being. Is there any clinical evidence of inherent benefit or harm from oral HGH?
—John Spence, MD, Marianna, Fla.

HGH has gained notoriety in the popular press as a result of its use as a supplement among athletes. Although HGH is widely used as a therapy for antiaging, such use has not been approved by the FDA and distribution of HGH as an antiaging agent is illegal in the United States.

A recent review of the literature found that in elderly participants treated with HGH, overall fat mass decreased, overall lean body mass increased, and total cholesterol levels decreased (Ann Intern Med. 2007;146:104-115). Additional determinations, including bone density and other serum lipid levels, did not change. In terms of side effects, persons treated with HGH were significantly more likely to experience soft-tissue edema, arthralgias, carpal tunnel syndrome, and gynecomastia. HGH recipients were also somewhat more likely to experience onset of diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting glucose. The authors concluded that the published literature is limited but suggests that HGH is associated with small changes in body composition and increased rates of adverse events. On the basis of this evidence, HGH cannot be recommended as an antiaging therapy.

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As for the skin, there are no conclusive data in humans to demonstrate a benefit at this time.
—Jeffrey M. Weinberg, MD