Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Center for Health Policy/Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research Stanford University


January 15, 2007 - In the News

CHP/PCOR fellow Hau Liu is quoted in numerous media outlets across the nation to discuss a new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that discusses whether growth hormone therapy fights signs of aging. Liu's research suggests that there is no data to support claims that taking HGH will reverse the signs of aging or make people live longer.

Fellow Hau Liu Receives Wide Media Coverage on Human Growth Hormone Study

Appeared in CHP/PCOR Quarterly Update, January 15, 2007

By Amber Hsiao

The use of human growth hormone (HGH) for anti-aging has been a relatively new occurrence even though growth hormone treatments have been around since the 1960s.

However, whether HGH actually produces anti-aging effects in the adult population has been of concern for researchers, and is a topic of investigation by CHP/PCOR fellow Hau Liu and colleagues.

Though HGH was originally extracted from the pituitary gland of cadavers, HGH is now made in the lab through recombinant methods that synthesize the same amino acids as are in our bodies. Children who lack growth hormone do not grow, so the approved use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mostly been in the pediatric population.

"Once the drug has been approved by the FDA, a doctor can prescribe it off-label for almost any reason. Whether it gets reimbursed is another matter," Liu said. "You often hear about its use for sports enhancement and anti-aging, so there are a variety of situations where it might be used off-label."

While off-label use does occur, HGH is a very expensive drug that costs anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 a year. The price depends on a number of factors, including the country where use occurs and the size of the child.

Since there are strict medical definitions of growth hormone deficiency and insurers typically only reimburse patients when these definitions are met, most who receive HGH therapy meet the medical definition of being growth hormone deficient, according to Liu. However, off-label uses still persist, especially in the elderly population.

"People think growth hormone has more subtle effects on the body once you're an adult and may help preserve muscle and decrease fat," Liu said. "Our paper specifically evaluated its use in the healthy elderly population for this anti-aging phenomenon."

Use of HGH for anti-aging properties has been popularized by the mainstream press in books with titles such as The Search for Eternal Youth.

"We did this study to evaluate the evidence for use of this agent for anti-aging because you read in the newspaper and in the lay literature about how a lot of people are using growth hormone for anti-aging," Liu said. "We examined the literature to see if there's any evidence that suggests: first, that it can reverse aging; second, if there are any benefits; and third if there is any harm."

The results of Liu's study were published on January 15, 2007 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The abstract of the study was presented at the Endocrine Society Annual Meeting in June of 2006. Other CHP/PCOR members who contributed to the study include research associate Dena M. Bravata, research fellow Smita Nayak, faculty member Ingram Olkin, and director & core faculty member Alan M. Garber.

Topics: Aging