I often hear people speak about their health as though they’re at the mercy of their hormones. The reality is, your hormones are at the mercy of your choices. Specifically your nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise choices. Growth hormone is one of those hormones. In fact, the decisions that sabotage or support growth hormone typically have a similar impact on other hormones as well.
Once you understand the impact growth hormone has on your brain and body, and how you determine how well growth hormone functions, you have a greater sense of responsibility and control over your health.
You’re not helpless. You have more control than you probably realize. As I often say,
You are 100% responsible for your health and fitness. Just you.
I’ll explain what growth hormone is, how it affects your health, and then what you can do to sabotage and support it.
What is Growth Hormone?
Growth hormone, as its name suggests, influences tissue growth and repair throughout life. Its primary role is in cell regeneration. It’s also called somatotropin.
The pituitary gland secretes growth hormone in response to low blood sugar, hunger, exercise and during deep sleep.
Growth hormone regulates fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism, controls body composition, affects skin health and bone density, helps build and maintain muscle mass, and enhances recovery from exercise and injury. It even affects your mental wellbeing.
Growth hormone causes the rapid growth of a newborn or an adolescent teenager. Even though you stop growing taller in early adulthood, somatotropin plays a role in your physical and mental health throughout life.
Growth Hormone and Metabolism
Thyroid hormone is the primary metabolic rate regulator, but growth hormone influences metabolism as well.
Growth hormone enhances cardiac output, which increases blood flow to muscle tissue and specific organs.
Studies show growth hormone can increase metabolic rate by 10-20%!
Growth hormone not only increases the number of calories you burn, but it also alters the type of calories you use for energy. As a “nutrient partitioner,” it shifts your body from burning carbohydrates and amino acids and storing fat, to burning fat and storing carbohydrates and amino acids.
Growth hormone helps to build or rebuild muscle, bone, skin, and organ tissues. However, when energy intake is low, when you fast, growth hormone levels rise to conserve amino acids, sparing muscle and causing your body to burn fat for energy.
Symptoms of Low Growth Hormone
The following are common symptoms of low growth hormone.
|Increased body fat||Increased waist-to-hip ratio|
|Increased belly (visceral) fat||Muscle loss|
|Decreased bone density||Decreased strength|
|Reduced exercise performance||Reduced VO2 Max|
|Decreased max heart rate||Reduced resilience to stress|
|Decreased physical and mental energy||Lack of motivation|
|Lack of libido||Increased need for sleep|
|Cardiovascular problems||Elevated blood pressure|
You might notice that many of these symptoms have similarities with imbalances of other hormones.
For example, low thyroid, low testosterone, elevated estrogen, or excess cortisol contribute to increased body fat, reduced libido, and decreased mental and physical energy. Decreased VO2 Max is also typical in hypothyroidism. And cardiovascular problems occur with low thyroid, low testosterone, and elevated cortisol.
The point is, if you see yourself in some of the symptoms above, it doesn’t mean you have low growth hormone, but it’s possible. Often, people have multiple hormone imbalances all at once.
What Causes Low Growth Hormone?
Genetic factors cause low growth hormone in a small percentage of the population, but it’s more likely that your diet and lifestyle choices are the cause of low growth hormone. The following are the most common contributors.
Obesity and Growth Hormone
This shouldn’t a shocker. Excess body fat wreaks havoc on the body. I’m often surprised that people don’t react to the growth of excess body fat the same way they would the growth of cancer. Often, when people find out they have cancer, they do anything they can to slow or stop it. Yet, excessive body fat can be as detrimental to health, even though it might not kill someone as quickly.
Excess fat, especially around the belly, blunts growth hormone secretion. Unfortunately, the low growth hormone makes it easier to gain more fat and lose more muscle. So, if you don’t do something about it with your diet, lifestyle, and exercises choices, you end up on a vicious downward spiral of gaining more fat, losing more muscle, and messing up your metabolism. The cycle doesn’t stop until you decide to control the situation with sufficient sleep, a healthy low-carb diet, and regular exercise.
If you are overweight or obese, it might take a few months of consistent exercise before you notice a reduction in body fat or an improvement in your recovery between workouts. Part of the reason could be the fact that it takes time for your body to secrete growth hormone normally again. In obese people, hypoglycemia often won’t even stimulate growth hormone, and that’s a fundamental metabolic function of the hormone.
How much of an effect does obesity have on growth hormone? Research shows that for each point someone’s BMI increases, growth hormone drops by 6%.
Sleep Debt and Growth Hormone
Growth hormone reaches its highest point during deep sleep. If you don’t get enough hours of sleep, or spend enough hours in deep sleep, you will miss out on peak growth hormone release.
Your evening routine, choice of foods, and refraining from alcohol all affect your ability to produce melatonin and reach deep sleep. Stop eating a few hours before bedtime, so blood sugar and fatty acid levels return to normal. This allows for optimal growth hormone secretion during sleep.
Diet and Growth Hormone
Hypoglycemia and hunger are major triggers for growth hormone. When you go without food for a few hours, blood sugar and fatty acid levels fall, and ghrelin, your hunger hormone, rises. It’s what makes your stomach growl.
You might think that the low blood sugar of a ketogenic diet would be the perfect diet for supporting growth hormone. However, if your blood sugar is always low, it can blunt growth hormone secretion.
Also, elevated fatty acids in the blood blunt growth hormone just like blood sugar does. So, if you’re among the “carbs will kill you” crowd, and you’re snacking on coconut oil, drinking heavy whipping cream, and filling up on fat bombs, you’re also going to blunt growth hormone.
No matter which type of diet you follow, it’s important to take a break from eating. You only need two or three meals per day. There’s no need for snacks unless you’re a competitive athlete.
If carbs and protein are high enough, a low-calorie diet should not suppress growth hormone. One study showed that even after six years of low-calorie dieting, the participants did not experience a reduction in growth hormone. However, 55% of their calories came from carbohydrates.
Aging and Growth Hormone
After the age of 30, growth hormone levels drop an average of 14% per year. Of course, this is in the average person, who is doing little to support optimal GH levels.
More than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and many adults at a normal weight have excessive belly fat. So, a 60-year-old adult that adopts the right lifestyle and nutrition habits could end up with better growth hormone levels than his or her 35-year-old child.
Hormonal Balance and Growth Hormone
Other hormones can affect growth hormone, just as growth hormone levels can affect other hormones.
If you haven’t had your hormones tested recently, I recommend either getting a complete lab test, like the WellnessFX Premium Panel, or at a minimum, at least getting all your major hormones measured. If your doctor will do it, awesome! If not, order the two home test kits below, the Women’s Fertility and Sleep tests from Thorne. Guys, you’ll have to do the WellnessFX option as there isn’t a men’s home test kit yet.
THORNE FERTILITY AND SLEEP TESTS
Even though low thyroid levels can influence growth hormone, growth hormone treatment can also enhance thyroid function by increasing the conversion of T4 to T3. In some people, low growth hormone could cause hypothyroidism. Address the growth hormone, and you might fix the hypothyroidism.
Regular alcohol consumption sabotages growth hormone secretion. Low blood sugar and deep sleep, the two most potent triggers of growth hormone, have little impact on heavy drinkers. One study showed that even when alcoholic men supplement with a 12 mg dose of melatonin, they don’t experience a rise in growth hormone at night.
Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1)
Insulin-like growth factor-1 is a peptide hormone that has similar effects as growth hormone itself. Because it’s easier to measure than growth hormone, and because in healthy people, IGF-1 levels often correlate with growth hormone levels, IGF-1 is usually used to make assumptions about growth hormone.
In people with healthy body fat, IGF-1 mimics the rise and fall of growth hormone. Normal IGF-1 indicates normal growth hormone, and low IGF-1 suggests growth hormone deficiency.
However, IGF-1 doesn’t always correlate with growth hormone in overweight and obese people. Those with excess body fat almost always have low growth hormone, but IGF-1 can be low, average, or even high. If you are overweight or obese, you can be reasonably sure your growth hormone levels are low, regardless of what your IGF-1 levels may be.
What About High Growth Hormone?
Excessively high growth hormone is called hypersomatotropism. It is rare, and usually caused by genetics, a tumor, or the illegal use of exogenous growth hormone for sport or bodybuilding. Some bodybuilders use doses up to 10 times what an endocrinologist would use when treating a patient with low growth hormone.
In adolescents and young adults, who do not have fully formed growth plates, hypersomatotropism causes giantism. The growth of their skeleton, along with the rest of their body, grows at an accelerated rate.
Hypersomatotropism in adults after growth plates have fused causes acromegaly, thickening of bone and other tissues. Since they can no longer grow up, their body gets thicker instead.
In addition to the change in growth, hypersomatotropism causes pancreatic cell dysfunction, which can lead to diabetes. It can also cause high blood pressure and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
How to Increase Growth Hormone
If you believe you have, or a family member has hypersomatotropism, stop reading this and schedule an appointment with an endocrinologist. On the other hand, if you display symptoms of low growth hormone, or hyposomatotropism, there’s a lot you can do to support optimal growth hormone levels. As you saw above, most of the causes of low growth hormone are lifestyle and nutrition choices.
Change your choices, consistently, and you could experience a dramatic improvement in growth hormone, as well as in how you look, feel, and perform.
Guard Your Sleep
When you sacrifice sleep, your mental and physical performance declines. You also do much damage to your brain. So if you’ve convinced yourself you need to sacrifice sleep to get more work done, you have deceived yourself. If you slept more, you’d be more productive in your daytime hours. You owe it to yourself, as well as everyone who depends on you, to get enough quality sleep.
Staying up too late under artificial light, going to sleep at inconsistent times, eating too late at night, and drinking alcohol interferes with melatonin secretion. Melatonin helps you fall asleep and reach deep sleep. You don’t just need to sleep to support growth hormone. You need to enter deep sleep.
Stop Eating So Often
Ghrelin, your hunger hormone, rises as you go without food. You usually notice its effects a few hours after your previous meal, when your stomach starts to growl. Unfortunately, most people reach for a snack when that happens. Even those who are conscious about their health have bought into the idea that they need to eat every few hours to keep their metabolism stoked. If that sounds like you, you’ve gotten suckered by snack food and supplement advertising.
Growth hormone rises a few hours after your last meal, so if you constantly eat, you limit growth hormone. In fact, you could go a couple of days without food, and growth hormone would still remain high. The elevated GH helps conserve muscle mass while you’re fasting.
Intermittent fasting can extend the period you rely on body fat stores for fuel and stimulates GH release, which helps you hold onto muscle while you go without food.
Competitive athletes being an exception, most people don’t need to eat more than two or three times per day.
That said, there would be an exception: Those with serious growth hormone deficiencies. For example, someone who’s damaged his or her pituitary from a head injury or tumor.
If someone has uncontrollable hypostomatotropin, they should eat more frequently, since they don’t benefit from the rise of growth hormone between meals (unless their doctor treats them with exogenous growth hormone).
For those with growth hormone deficiency, protein loss during fasting accelerates by up 50 percent. In this specific circumstance, using whey protein or an essential amino acid supplement between meals could help minimize calorie intake while providing enough dietary amino acids to conserve muscle.
Exercise stimulates growth hormone a few ways. First, it causes physical damage to your muscles (assuming your workouts are intense enough). Physical trauma, whether it’s an injury, surgery, or a good training session, stimulates GH release.
Second, assuming you aren’t drinking or eating carbs before your workout (don’t do that), exercise lowers blood sugar. As your workout progresses, and blood sugar drops, growth hormone rises, helping you burn more fat as a primary fuel source.
Oh, and for the Keto crowd, skip the pre-workout fat bomb, too. Too much fat blunts GH release as well. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, train in a fasted state to get the most out of your workout.
The more fit you become, the more intense you’ll need to train to gain the same growth hormone-increasing effects of exercise. That’s good news for those who are just starting out, as you don’t have to train like an experienced gym-goer to increase growth hormone.
The experienced gym-goer, though, needs to keep pushing the limits to get the same growth hormone-stimulating benefits.
One study showed that those who incorporated exercise into their weight loss program, and maintained the lost weight, experienced a 40% increase in growth hormone. Forty percent!
Eat Protein With Each Meal
Dietary protein significantly increases growth hormone, whereas carbohydrates and fat do not. This is one of my many concerns with those who follow a long-term, strict ketogenic diet, and are afraid of overeating protein because they might dip out of ketosis.
Growth hormone and insulin rise in response to protein consumption, as insulin helps shuttle amino acids into cells, and growth hormone stimulates protein synthesis, which fosters the growth and repair of those tissues.
Read More: What You Need to Know About High-Protein Diets.
Growth Hormone Supporting Supplements
Arginine has been shown to stimulate growth hormone more than other amino acids.* However, tryptophan, ornithine, lysine, and glycine all stimulate growth hormone as well.
As a side note, magnesium glycinate, the magnesium form I most recommend, is made of magnesium bound to glycine. You get the calming effects of magnesium, which can support sleep, plus the amino acid that supports growth hormone production.*
One study showed arginine has been shown to increase growth hormone levels by 700%.* However, carbohydrates blunt this increase, so it should be used on an empty stomach, ideally before exercise.
Glutamine has also been shown to increase growth hormone levels with a dose as small as two grams, although most other benefits of glutamine seem to require three to five grams. Glutamine has a ton of other health benefits, so you might want to include this in your daily regimen anyway.*
Melatonin supports growth hormone secretion by enhancing deep sleep, as well as by directly stimulating growth hormone release.
My favorite melatonin-based supplement is Sleep Essence by Young Living.
Growing Growth Hormone
I hope you take two things away from this article.
- Growth hormone is critically important for the health of your body and brain at any age.
- You have significant control over your production of growth hormone, more-so than most hormones.
Now, you can either tuck that knowledge in your back pocket and sit on it for years, until something dramatically bad develops with your health. Or, you can use what you’ve learned, change your choices, and change the trajectory of your health for the future.
If you learned something new, and think someone else would too, please share this article.