Thursday, December 24, 2009

Growth hormone: The fountain of youth

Growth hormone, also known as human growth hormone, seems to be implicated in a number of metabolic conditions associated with aging, and, more generally, poor health.

In adults, growth hormone deficiency is associated with: decreased calcium retention and osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, increased fat deposition, decreased protein synthesis, and immunodeficiency. In children, growth hormone deficiency is associated with stunted growth.

Levels of growth hormones decline with age, and their decrease is believed to contribute to the aging process. Abdominal obesity is associated with low levels of growth hormone, and is also associated with the onset of the metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

While there are many treatments in the market that include exogenous administration of growth hormones (e.g., through injection), there are several natural ways in which growth hormone levels can be increased. These natural ways can often lead to more effective and sustainable results than prescription drugs.

For example, fasting stimulates the natural production of growth hormone. So does vigorous exercise, particularly resistance exercise with a strong anaerobic component (not cardio though). And, to the surprise of many people, deep sleep stimulates the natural production of growth hormone, perhaps more than anything else. (Although only once every 24 hours; sleeping all day does not seem to work.)

In fact, during a 24-hour period, growth hormone typically varies in pulses, or cycles. The pulses are somewhat uniformly distributed during the day, with a peak occurring at night. The graph below (source: Fleck & Kraemer, 2004) plots the typical variation of growth hormone during a 12-hour period, including the deep sleep period.

As you can see, growth hormone peaks during deep sleep; which is achieved a few hours after one goes to bed, and not too long before one wakes up.

By the way, if you want to know more about human physiology and metabolism, forget about popular diet and exercise books. Next to peer-reviewed academic articles (which are often hard to read), the best sources are college textbooks used in courses on physical education, nutrition, endocrinology, and related topics. The book from which the graph above was taken (Fleck & Kraemer, 2004), is a superb example of that.


Fleck, S.J., & Kraemer, W.J. (2004). Designing resistance training programs. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.