Lecture to cover dangers, benefits of growth hormones
March 4, 2002
Almost 500 years after Ponce de Leon began his ill-fated search for the Fountain of Youth, researchers are now conducting studies that may shed light on whether human growth hormones can help reverse the process of aging.
Robert S. Schwartz MD, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, will speak on “Human Growth Hormones and Aging” on Thursday at the Given Institute, 100 E. Francis St. in Aspen. Light refreshments will be served at 5 p.m., and the free lecture will begin at 5:30.
Although the Federal Drug Administration has approved human growth hormones for people with abnormal hormone deficiencies, Dr. Schwartz said many physicians also prescribe them for elderly people who naturally experience a drop in hormone production.
In a recent interview, he said there is some evidence that growth hormones may reverse some elements of the aging process. But he added that hormone treatments may also have serious negative side effects.
“These drugs are available now, and people take them and think they’ve found the Fountain of Youth, but I think they’re mistaken,” he said. “The unregulated use of these human growth hormones can be dangerous.”
Dr. Schwartz said that while there is “considerable evidence” that growth hormones can result in more muscle mass and decreased fat mass in the elderly, the drugs might also result in diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. And there is “some concern” that growth hormones might cause tumors, and a more rapid growth in tumors.
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Several studies now in progress may shed more light on whether growth hormones can be proven effective for widespread use. These studies will examine whether growth hormones can be an effective treatment for specific age-related problems, without damaging side effects.
“We’re not sure yet exactly where the strengths in treatment are and who will benefit,” said Dr. Schwartz. “We’re looking for the greatest upside and the minimum risk. There could be some very positive benefits, and it’s certainly plausible to continue with the studies.”
Human growth hormones are extremely expensive, and are currently available only as injections and not in pill form. Before drug companies invest in a pill form of hormones, or hormone regulating drugs, studies have to more clearly demonstrate useful results, Dr. Schwartz said.
Among the potential benefits for the elderly is an increase in bone mass, benefits to sleep and improved cognitive awareness.
“The upside potential is great, and that’s why the drug companies are so interested,” he said. “But so far, the growth hormone has been something like a greased pig; it’s been very hard to get a handle on it.”
For more information, call 925-1057.