HGH and teens: Why we should be concerned

Synthetic HGH (the only approved form in the United States) is expensive (about $150 per week when injected daily).

It was reported recently that a remarkable 11 percent of teens had used Human Growth Hormone, or what purported to be HGH, in the last year to promote athletic performance or appearance, according to results from the latest Partnership Attitude Tracking Study. 

HGH and its variants have been banned from athletic endeavors, but it is not often caught.  Unfortunately, HGH is not benign and can result in severe local swelling and muscle destruction, joint pain, and premature development of diabetes. Some believe that it could potentially promote cancer such as lymphoma.

Synthetic HGH (the only approved form in the United States) is expensive (about $150 per week when injected daily) and some teenagers are probably not using real HGH if they are paying less.  Many adults, including “celebrities” like Suzanne Somers, say it positively changed their lives and movie stars use it to “buff” up for playing superheroes in very tight suits. HGH really does build muscle mass, but it also promotes weight gain.  It is unlike many other illicit or illicitly obtained medications since it does not primarily effect thinking and mood. Instead, it claims to provide success in sports or increased popularity.

It is tough to be a teen in our over sharing online culture. A fad can mushroom very quickly. In fact, the reported use of HGH has doubled in teens in just one year.  All of us can see bodies being unnaturally lean and unnaturally muscled, and think that it is normal.  A researcher, Bob Goldman, asked elite athletes if they would take a drug that guaranteed them a gold medal, but would also kill them in five years.  More than half said they would take the drug. The answer was consistently the same for more than ten years.  This question is now called the Goldman Dilemma.

In addition to HGH’s side-effects, the injection process itself can result in infections especially if kids are sharing needles. Athletes in high school and college, and teens in general are under immense pressure to perform.  Coaches are usually great people, but they also have career pressure on them.  I was an okay high school athlete, but I am very short, under 5’ 6” at my tallest.  I played sports because it made me more of a regular guy and took some social pressure off of being too bright, too short and too heavy.  But here is a drug that may make you actually taller (if taken before puberty) and thinner. Kids generally do not care about long-term outcomes.

So if you see syringes in the house, or peculiar “insect bites,” confront your teen and ask what is happening.


Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »