One of the guys at my HIV support group was talking about human growth hormone. He was going on and on about how good it is, claiming that it repaired the body and helped him lose body fat. If what he was saying was true, it must be the fountain of youth. But I've learned that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I definitely do not want to get involved with steroids. Can you tell me about it? Is it a steroid?--Chuck, Los Angeles
Human growth hormone is just that: a hormone that stimulates growth and reproduction of human cells. It's responsible for a variety of functions in the body, most notably the increase in height during adolescence. While it's not a steroid per se, HGH is frequently associated with steroids because it's a controlled substance often used by bodybuilders. In the United States it's available by doctor's prescription under the brand name Serostim. In those of us with HIV, Serostim is sometimes prescribed for people suffering from wasting syndrome and also the redistribution of fat (lipodystrophy).
There's good reason to be optimistic about HGH in treatment for those of us with HIV. A recent project conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital studied 31 HIV-positive men ages 18 to 60 with lipodystrophy. The findings, published in the August issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrated that men receiving a low dose of human growth hormone gained lean body mass, experienced reductions in abdominal fat, and had lower triglycerides. The men also reported improvements in their perceptions of their lipodystrophy.
Still, there's reason to be cautious. While HGH may also work as an immune-based therapy to help the body produce new T cells, it's been shown to increase HIV reproduction in the test tube. Therefore, growth hormone must always be used in combination with an anti-HIV drug regimen that's able to keep your viral load undetectable. People who have an active form of cancer must also never use it. It's very, very important to use HGH only with your doctor's supervision.
Remember: There are no shortcuts to fitness. You might ask yourself if you really need the benefits of HGH for your health (for example, to counteract wasting or lipodystrophy) or if the motivation is more appearance-driven. If the answer is the former, then talk with your doctor about your concerns. If it's the latter, it might be time to get a little more serious about your nutrition and exercise regimen.
Page is a certified fitness trainer and journalist. As president of Sam Page Fitness, he operates three private studios in Southern California. He contributes to several national and international magazines and also publishes a weekly e-newsletter from SamPageFitness.com and a daily blog at PeaceLoveLunges.com.