In a world where we live longer but often lack quality of life, there is every motivation to strive to thrive rather than merely "existing" with a host of pharmaceutical props. Human Growth Hormone (HGH), as the name suggests, is critical during our first eighteen years of growth, but a host of recent research reveals that it is just as important in later life. The problem here is that production of this critical "wellness" hormone declines throughout our lives to the point that at 60 years old, our bodies contain just 25% of the HGH found in a 25-year-old.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) or somatotropin is produced by the pituitary gland and its release is controlled by the hypothalamus. Miscommunication between these two glands creates this shortage in later life. It appears that we produce plenty of this hormone, but it is not released as it should be. The key question becomes, "how do we improve HGH release to enhance longevity?"
Dr Daniel Rudman published the first research study on HGH and longevity in 1990. He reported a change in the muscle to fat ratio in his subjects that was equivalent to 10 to 20 years of reversed aging. A healthy 20-year-old has a 80% : 20% muscle to fat ratio, while a 70-year-old has a 50% : 50% ratio. HGH does more than increase muscle mass, however. It also improves the synthesis of protein and stimulates a protein dependent immune system. This hormone can quite dramatically improve the breakdown of fats with obvious implications for weight management and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) (our largest killer). HGH increases calcium retention and the strength and mineralisation of bones and it also contributes to pancreatic health. Pancreatic stress has been linked to many degenerative diseases.
The Symptoms of HGH Deficiency
If you are wondering about your own HGH status, here are some of the deficiency symptoms:
- Reduced lean body mass
- Reduced skeletal muscle strength
- Increased abdominal fat
- Increased LDL cholesterol
- Thin skin and decreased nail and hair growth
- Reduced sex drive
- Poor memory and concentration
- Reduced energy
Factors Limiting HGH Release
Stress, both physical and emotional, is a big player here. Stress is endemic in our culture and it is a major factor in a multitude of disorders, including impeded release of HGH. Liver dysfunction is another player, as is poor diet and genetics. Obesity is an issue and this is particularly relevant in Australia where we have just edged out the Americans as the most overweight nation on Earth. Zinc and magnesium deficiency are also factors and this is important because around 80% of us are deficient in both of these minerals. Increased blood sugar or insulin levels also hamper the release of HGH from the pituitary gland.
Factors Increasing HGH Release
Calorie restriction is perhaps the most powerful tool to increase lifespan and boost HGH. Studies with rats and guinea pigs have repeatedly shown that maintaining a diet involving 2000 calories per day can increase the lifespan of these creatures by up to 250%. Last year saw the completion of the first primate studies into this phenomenon. In this research, it was found that the lifespan of chimpanzees could be increased by up to 150% with a similar calorie restriction. Interestingly, three studies of centenarians completed last year found that the only common denominator amongst those achieving the magical 100, was low blood insulin. So, the plot thickens; we are consuming too many refined carbohydrates and paying the price with a reduced lifespan.
The balance between testosterone and oestrogen directly impacts HGH release. It's all about the ratio between these two hormones, and a common problem in both sexes is an imbalance in favour of oestrogen. This is not surprising considering the widespread use of oestrogen to speed the growth of pigs and cattle. However, there are other drivers of this excess. Most of the farm chemicals are oestrogen mimics and their residues upon our food increase our oestrogen exposure. There is also the issue of the contamination of waterways with residues from the birth control pill. This problem was highlighted in a recent article in "Scientific American" called "The Feminisation of the Mammal".
High doses of specific amino acids have also proven effective strategies to stimulate the flow of HGH. Glutamine is the big player here. This is the most abundant amino acid in our bodies, but its production is seriously reduced if we are stressed. Glutamine is essential for proper brain function, immune function and for good liver and kidney function, so this is a good reason to de-stress. One study reported a 400% increase in HGH by supplementing with one gram of glutamine powder (1/2 a teaspoon) morning and night.
However, it is specific exercise regimes that hold the most promise for enhanced HGH release and the associated increase in health and longevity. Resistance exercise, for example, should be an integral part of every workout for every age group. Simple things like lifting light weights or doing press ups for 15 minutes a day, five times a week, have been shown to boost HGH release by as much as 400%! The most exciting new finding in relation to exercise and increased life span involves an even shorter time investment for a greater release potential.
HGH Exercise Breakthrough
A new type of exercise called Peak 8 has proven so effective at boosting HGH and lengthening life that it has been recently endorsed by The American Heart Foundation. This exercise affects different types of muscle tissue to conventional aerobic exercise and offers exceptional heart health benefits. It's all about muscle fibre and a new understanding of the different types of muscle tissue. There are three types of muscle fibre but aerobic exercise only addresses one type. There is slow twitch muscle fibre, which involves red muscle cells. Blood delivers oxygen to these cells, which is used to generate energy during aerobic exercise. Aerobic workouts only exercise slow twitch fibre. Over half of the muscle fibre in the heart involves fast twitch or super fast fibre. These muscle cells are only exercised during anaerobic exercise, involving bursts of extreme activity, where oxygen is not required to produce energy. It has recently been found that exercising fast and superfast fibre provides release of HGH comparable to injections (hence blood tests can no longer be used to monitor HGH levels in professional sports people). In one study there was an increase of 560% in HGH levels following this new exercise regime.
The decline in HGH has been termed somatapause and it tends to kick in around the mid-thirties. This change is often accompanied by a sedentary lifestyle and is often characterised by loss of muscle and increased gut fat. The Peak 8 exercise regime was developed by sports scientists, particularly those working with Olympic sprinters. Not only does it work these other forms of muscle fibre and release HGH in the process, but it has also been found to search out and burn fat like a heat seeking missile. Peak 8 is a remarkable regime for those struggling to maintain ideal weight.
It is interesting to note that children and animals don't run marathons or become gym junkies. They move at high speeds for short periods of time to sponsor growth hormone release. Robust health, strength and disease resistance throughout your life are directly linked to growth hormone levels. Once again, we find that nature has much to teach. The difference between long distance runners, with their often haggard appearance, compared to sprinters, with their more youthful countenance, could be linked to HGH. The long distance runners also lose much more magnesium when sweating and require major doses of antioxidants to counter the extreme oxidation associated with breathing so hard for so long.
Eight Bursts of Life
This strategy can be used on a treadmill, exercise bike, out on a run or in the gym and it involves a series of eight bursts of energy over a 20-minute session. There is a limit of three of these sessions per week, so it only involves a total of one hour each week. Here are the basics of this simple wellness strategy:
- Do the 5 Tibetan rites (check the net for details of this ancient, 10 minute, endocrine balancing practice) and then warm up for a further three minutes.
- Exercise strenuously for 30 seconds until you are breathless (to the point that you literally can't continue).
- Allow 90 seconds for recovery.
- Repeat this intense exercise, followed by recovery, a further seven times.
Four Ways to Boost the Benefits of Being Breathless
Exercise-induced HGH should flood the body for two hours following each session seeking out and burning body fat more effectively than any other single strategy.
The popular practice of using a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein mix to reduce post exercise recovery time is counterproductive if you are seeking a HGH response. The associated insulin spike and related increase in somatostatin (a growth hormone neutraliser), shuts down HGH.
Do not exceed three 20-minute sessions a week or you will suffer exhaustion and other negatives.
Do not jump straight into eight bouts of Peak 8. Let your fitness be your guide and if you are unfit and overweight you should very slowly work your way up to the full program.
The baby boomers seeking a couple of extra decades have effectively funded the new science of longevity. However, the factors that fuel an extended life turn out to be the same factors that determine health and happiness for everyone at any time. One of those key wellness parameters relates to levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), or somatotropin. The role of this essential secretion changes throughout our lives. It is initially required to ensure optimal growth and development, but in the last two-thirds of our journey, HGH becomes a major player in relation to protection from degenerative disease and associated quality of life. Levels of this hormone are now seen as a fitness marker, and somatapause is the new term for a series of negative metabolic changes that predispose us to a variety of health problems in later life. The trick is to stimulate release of this hormone from the pituitary gland and you now have some guidelines to achieve this outcome. If you reduce carbohydrate intake (with the associated weight loss potential), de-stress, practise informed supplementation and exercise correctly, you may well reclaim this natural elixir of youth.