Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Growth Hormones?

Ever since the mid 1960s, doctors have been harnessing the power of human growth hormones to improve the lives of children with growth-stunting diseases such as chronic renal failure and Turner syndrome. In recent years, the hormone has attracted a whole new group of customers, including athletes looking for a competitive edge and older people looking for a fountain of youth. How much do you know about human growth hormones? Take this short quiz to find out.

1. A doctor cannot prescribe growth hormones to a short child unless the child has a clearly defined medical condition.

True

False

2. Human growth hormone that is produced naturally in the body is essential for good health even after a person has passed puberty.

True

False

3. What competitive advantages can athletes gain by abusing human growth hormone?

a. Increased speed

b. Increased strength

c. Increased endurance

d. There are no proven benefits

4. Some people abuse growth hormones by taking them without a prescription. Which of the following is NOT a common side effect of long-term human growth hormone abuse?

a. A transient form of Type 2 diabetes

b. Carpal tunnel syndrome

c. Wild mood swings

d. Hypertension

5. Supplements containing the amino acid arginine will greatly enhance natural production of human growth hormone.

True

False

6. Injections of human growth hormone can help middle-aged and elderly people "turn back the clock."

True

False

7. People who received human growth hormone treatment before 1985 may be at risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

True

False

Your Results

1. A doctor cannot prescribe growth hormones to a short child unless the child has a clearly defined medical condition.

The correct answer is: False.

In July 2003, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of human growth hormone for unusually short children even if their height can't be explained by a medical condition. Since short stature is not a medical disorder, however, this treatment remains controversial. Even if a short child is treated with growth hormone, it is not clear that he will be taller as an adult than he would have been without treatment.

2. Human growth hormone that is produced naturally in the body is essential for good health even after a person has passed puberty.

The correct answer is: True

A shortfall of growth hormone -- caused by illness or injury to the pituitary gland -- can be debilitating to adults. The heart becomes weak, cholesterol and blood pressure rise, and energy disappears. There are also many psychological consequences: a person may suffer from anxiety, depression, extreme shyness, and a sharp decline in sexual desire. Fortunately, careful medical treatment with growth hormones can relieve these symptoms and greatly improve a person's quality of life.

3. What competitive advantages can athletes gain by abusing human growth hormone?

The correct answer is: d. There are no proven benefits

Injecting human growth hormone to improve athletic performance is an act of blind faith. Very few studies have ever tested the effects of the hormone on athletes, and the results so far don't look promising. In one study, 16 men started a weight training program while taking either human growth hormone or a placebo (a dummy injection). The men taking the hormone gained weight faster (possibly because of water retention), but they didn't become stronger or more muscular than the other men.

4. Some people abuse growth hormones by taking them without a prescription. Which of the following is NOT a common side effect of long-term human growth hormone abuse?

The correct answer is: c. Wild mood swings

Taking growth hormone without a prescription can open the door to a wide range of complications. In addition to transient type 2 diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hypertension, people who abuse the hormone are vulnerable to heart disease and cancer of the digestive tract. Mood swings are a common side effect of anabolic steroids, not human growth hormone.

5. Supplements containing the amino acid arginine will greatly enhance natural production of human growth hormone.

The correct answer is: False

Some athletes are willing to give it a try, but there's little hard evidence that arginine supplements boost levels of human growth hormone. In one human study, researchers found that arginine supplements did indeed boost growth hormones significantly. However, the study was very small, with just eight subjects. Doctors can enhance production of growth hormones with injections of the amino acid, but according to a recent report in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, injections are 100 times more potent than supplements.

6. Injections of human growth hormone can help middle-aged and elderly people "turn back the clock."

The correct answer is: False

Small studies in the early 1990s raised hope that human growth hormone could be a "Fountain of Youth." Since then, the excitement has faded. Studies show that injection of the hormone can make elderly people leaner, but the shots haven't been shown to improve physical or mental functioning in any way. At this time, the benefits don't seem to outweigh the risks.

7. People who received human growth hormone treatment before 1985 may be at risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The correct answer is: True

The risk is small, but some experts take it seriously. So far, all of the patients who caught CJD from hormone treatments received their treatments before 1977. In that year, researchers developed a new purifying process that may have erased the risk. Synthetic human growth hormone, first available in 1985, definitely carries no risk of CJD. At this time, nobody who has ever received natural human growth hormone can donate blood or organs. For more information on CJD and human growth hormone, see http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/endo/pubs/creutz/update.htm

References

Human Growth Foundation. News flash. July 2003.

Human Growth Foundation. Adult growth hormone deficiency. June 2002.

Dean H. Does exogenous growth hormone improve athletic performance? Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. July 2002. 12: 250-253.

Eichner ER. Ergogenic aids: What athletes are using -- and why

Colorado State University. Growth hormone and aging.

National Institutes of Health. Information for people treated with NHPP human growth hormone (hGH). April 2003.

Collier S, et al. Growth hormone responses to varying doses of oral arginine. Growth Hormone and IGF Research. 15(2):136-9. April 2005

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