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Q & A

Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.

What exactly is hGH? Can it really keep me/ make me young?

For something that the body naturally produces, hGH - human growth hormone - has become one of the most controversial matters in the health industry. When we're young, our pituitary glands make hGH in abundance (and this only makes sense - we need it to grow, after all. That big growth spurt that most teenagers have is largely due to an increase in hGH production). When we reach adulthood, production of this hormone slows. Grown-ups, let's face it, are grown up - they need hGH for cell repair only. But eventually, hGH production shrinks to a crawl - fifty percent of what it once was by the time we hit 40 - and the elderly have only a fraction of the hGH of people in their 20s. This lack is said to quicken the aging process, hence we grow weaker and lose muscle and bone mass. So, the logic goes, why not take hGH, either by injection or by oral dosage, to keep those cells regenerating and halt, or even reverse, the aging process? Well, it's a little more complicated than that, and therein lies both the controversy and the dangers.

(Article continued below.)

First off, hGH is a hormone, and that's something very different from a vitamin, mineral, herb or other supplement. Our bodies and brains function through a complex system of hormone production, and these hormones are secreted into our blood system through the endocrine glands. Many illnesses can happen as a result of hormone imbalance. If someone lacks certain hormones because of an underactive thyroid, it causes energy loss, a slow metabolism, aches and pains and a number of other unpleasant effects. Women in their early 50s go through menopause because their bodies shut down the production of estrogen and other female hormones. For the most part, hormone therapy involves adding the hormones that the person lacks, but this type of therapy comes with a load of side effects specific to the hormone(s) being given. And when it comes to something like aging, it's not just one hormone that is the problem. The whole system is weakening and out of balance. Adding hGH only may mean your body is still out of balance, and while some things may seem to improve - increased muscle mass, reduced fat stores - other problems may be developing. Side effects of taking hGH can include carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling of the joints, an abnormal heart and abnormal bone growth. In addition, research into hGH therapy is still pretty new - we don't yet know a lot about effects over the longterm.

That said, there does seem to be a lot of promise in hGH therapy for those in their 60s and beyond. Research is ongoing and chances are within a few years doctors will develop non-experimental hormone therapies that will delay and even reverse the effects of aging. Right now, however, it's still a crapshoot - we just don't know enough yet. And in spite of what you may read on the Internet, there are only two methods to ingest hGH in a way that your body will absorb - by injection or by inhalant, and neither therapy is cheap. Pills do not work (at least not yet). Many people who are injecting or inhaling hGH do swear by it, but they are basically making themselves guinea pigs in a game where they don't know all the rules. It's a very scary situation.

In addition, one group of people is experimenting with hGH who should stay away from it completely - athletes in their 20s. Many take hGH in addition to or instead of steroids (the thing they like about hGH is that it's not detectable in drug tests). These athletes believe that hGH will improve the power of their muscles and joints and shorten recovery time. Research does not back this up for healthy young people. Plus athletes who aren't earning the big bucks are buying hGH cheaply on the black market, and they're not really sure what they're getting - they may not even be getting hGH at all. Again, this is very dangerous and may even do serious damage over the longterm.

As of this writing, hGH therapy is not yet ready to go mainstream. When it is ready, it will probably be a very expensive, sophisticated treatment. But there is a way you can turn back the clock and get the same effects as hGH right now, at this very moment - it's called strength training. You will build muscle, get stronger and have more energy - and you will have none of the adverse side effects of hGH therapy.

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