Division of Geriatrics

Low Growth Hormone Levels May Predict Survival in Humans with Exceptional Longevity

Dr. Nir Barzilai aging expert Albert Einstein College of Medicine Bronx NY
Nir Barzilai, MD

While synthetic human growth hormone (hGH) has been marketed as an anti-aging agent, low levels of growth hormone may actually be better for longevity in older adults, according to a new study by Dr. Nir Barzilai with Dr. Sofiya Milman and other Einstein colleagues.

Beginning in middle age, the pituitary gland slows down production of naturally occurring growth hormone (IGF-1). hGH prompts the liver and other organs to make IGF-1, which affects tissues and organs throughout the body.

hGH has been approved for treating adults with conditions such as growth hormone deficiency, short bowel syndrome, and AIDS- or HIV-related muscle wasting. Some adults take hGH to delay age-related changes such as decreasing bone and muscle mass, as well as a number of other hoped-for effects (improved skin appearance, reduced body fat, heightened sex drive, and increased energy, for example).Though the off-label use of hGH has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry, there has been no proof that hGH actually improves overall health or longevity in older adults.

Dr. Sofiya Milman aging expert and endocrinologist Albert Einstein College of Medicine Bronx NY
Sofiya Milman, MD

The study, conducted at Einstein, tested whether growth hormone (IGF-1) levels in 184 nonagenarians could predict the duration of their survival. Females with IGF-1 levels below the median survived significantly longer than females with levels above the median. Additionally, lower IGF-1 levels predicted longer survival in both males and females with a history of cancer. Results of the study were published in Aging Cell in March 2014, demonstrating for the first time that low levels of IGF-1 may be linked to exceptional longevity in women, particularly those with a history of cancer.

A similar paper was published in Cell in March 2014, proposing that there was a benefit to lower IGF-1 levels before age 65. Drs. Barzilai and Milman's study revealed that this benefit extends well into old age.

"Our results suggest that growth hormone for healthy aging might not be a good idea,” said Dr. Barzilai. “The same hormones may have a different effect across the life span and the outcome may be different.”

Dr. Barzilai is Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology), Director of the Institute for Aging Research, Director of the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, and the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research. Dr. Milman is Assistant Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology and Geriatrics) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.


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