Human Growth Hormone
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a naturally occurring hormone that is essential to human growth and the development of bodily structures. HGH (also termed as Somatotrophin) is secreted from the anterior pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain) in response to exercise, sleep, stress, and low plasma glucose. Growth hormone is often called the “master hormone”, because it is released by the anterior pituitary gland (often called the “master gland”).
If testosterone is the primary hormone for building strength, growth hormone is perhaps most important for body composition – burning fat for energy and ensuring that protein is transported to muscle cells for synthesis.
During childhood a shortage of HGH leads to the condition of dwarfism, in which individuals grow to only about three feet in height. Conversely, an overabundance of HGH can lead to gigantism and heights of over eight feet are possible.
GH acts on many tissues throughout the body. In children and adolescents, it stimulates the growth of bone and cartilage. In people of all ages, GH boosts protein production, promotes the utilization of fat, interferes with the action of insulin, and raises blood sugar levels. GH also raises levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).
Growth hormone secretion peaks in adolescence when accelerated growth occurs and then declines with age. Although the body still synthesizes nearly the same amount of GH, the amount released from the pituitary falls steadily with advancing age. After age 30 growth hormone blood levels decline about 10% to 14% per decade. Between 40 to 50 years of age growth hormone levels are only 50 to 60% of what they were at age 20.
Ever wonder why it was so easy to stay in shape when you were younger? Well, this is one of the many reasons why. Being that growth hormone declines so rapidly with age, it is even more imperative that we aren’t inhibiting what little growth hormone we’re able to produce. Outside of taking exogenous GH, you can still optimize your own body’s GH release. Growth hormone raises in response to deep sleep, high-intensity exercise, and low insulin levels.
Enhancing Growth Hormone Naturally
Two of the biggest factors that play a role in the release of this hormone are sleep and exercise.
Your pituitary gland releases GH in spurts, the biggest of which occurs during sleep. About 70-to-80% of your GH production takes place while you’re sleeping 7-to-9 hours straight (whether it be day or night) but to get the best results you want to get deep, peaceful, restful & re-energizing sleep. When we cut our sleep short, we blunt the effect of growth hormone, thus also limiting our recovery and muscle growth ability. So make sure you are getting enough sleep and you are getting it at similar times everyday.
The next-biggest GH release comes in response to exercise. A few ways to manipulate GH to serve your goals:
- Exercise with vigor and intensity. Using unchallenging weights for garbage reps won’t trigger a major GH release.
- Moderate repetitions (10) and short rest periods (1 minute) produce higher GH concentrations than fewer repetitions and longer rest periods. When you pump out sets of 10 reps with short rest periods, your muscles generate a waste product called lactate that produces a telltale discomfort. Lactate may trigger GH release, or your body may produce GH and lactate in response to the same stimuli. Either way, when you feel the burn, GH isn’t far behind.
- Weight training workouts involving compound exercises like squat, pull-ups, deadlifts, bench press, dips, and/or high intensity interval workouts like these jumping jack, ski step, sledgehammer or battle rope workouts would give you the biggest increase in GH after working out whereas isolation exercises like triceps push-downs or bicep curls and low-to-moderate intensity cardio activities like walking or riding a bike would also probably increase your HGH but just not anywhere near as significant as compound full body exercises and intervals would.
The third biggest GH release comes in response to low insulin levels. You want your insulin levels to remain low. Fat cannot be released in the presence of high insulin because insulin is a storage hormone. Insulin and growth hormone are inversely correlated. This means when one is high, the other is low, and vice versa. This is why it’s so important to make sure you are eating the right carbohydrates. Carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index will be digested slowly, and will provide a slow and steady release of glucose in the body. High-glycemic carbohydrates on the other hand cause a rapid digestion of sugars and a sudden influx of glucose into the bloodstream. The body cannot handle such a high amount of glucose in the blood, and so insulin is released to shuttle that glucose into either muscle glycogen, or convert it into fat for energy later if glycogen stores are full.
- Studies examining exogenous GH therapy in elderly adults with declining GH levels have yielded mixed results.
- Given the mixed results and the high cost of subcutaneous injection of human recombinant GH therapy, a more natural approach to maintaining youthful health and vigor is to employ lifestyle choices that optimize the endogenous production of GH.
- Safe methods for enhancing endogenous GH production include: losing excess body fat, particularly abdominal fat; avoiding high-glycemic load carbohydrates; optimizing sleep habits; eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate snack before bedtime; and exercising regularly to your lactate threshold. Targeted nutrients including CDP-choline, arginine, ornithine, glycine, glutamine, and niacin (vitamin B3) can help support endogenous GH secretion, assist muscle growth and recovery from exercise, and promote healthy sleep.