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December 12, 2015

Growth Hormone Products - Do They Work?

Kelsey Brandin
By Kelsey Brandin

HGH—“That’s illegal, right? It’s kinda like steroids, isn’t it?”

In the bodybuilding community, many are used to the constant steroid accusations and misunderstanding of our lifestyles. Often, we are seen as “meatheads”, implied to be stupid, and seen as one-dimensional. The pre-prepared meals, hours in the gym, and tens of pills are often perceived as not only unhealthy and obsessive—but also unnecessary. In my years of training, I have had many individuals accuse me of using steroids (despite never going near them), and also of being unhealthy due to the number of supplements I take. However, bodybuilders and other weight training athletes, as I have learned by training with local professionals, are some of the most intelligent and healthy individuals I’ve met. What so many don’t understand, is that in order for your body to compete at a higher level of athleticism, certain gaps in one’s diet that simply cannot be filled by food (due to the quantity and other logistical factors that make it impossible to be fulfilled through eating) must be filled through supplementation. However, diet is not the only area these athletes often need help. Which brings me to perhaps one of the most misunderstood (yet beneficial) supplements on the market: HGH (Human Growth Hormone) products.

“Are they illegal?”

Not at all.

“Are they unhealthy?”

Not in supplemental dosages.

“Are they like steroids?”

Is whey protein a steroid? (If you answered yes to this sarcastic and rhetorical question, please read our other articles on supplements, or find a new hobby).

REM/NREM = Rest and Recovery

HGH supplements can be easily explained and understood by individuals with little to no scientific background. It is well known that sleep is how your body recovers—the longer and more restful your sleep the better you feel, while if you get fewer hours and wake up frequently, you feel sore, tired, and scatter-brained. Your body goes through two different sleep phases, known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement). There are three stages of sleep, though sometimes there are considered four stages which separate NREM and REM as different phases. However, for the sake of this article we will be including them both in stage three. Stage one lasts from five to ten minutes, and is very light (pre-sleep, if you will). The second stage is a light stage of sleep, in which your heart rate slows down and your core temperature drops—this is your body’s preparation for stage three. In stage three sleep, your body fluctuates between NREM and REM. During REM, your eyes will jolt back and forth, thus giving this phase its name. Your brain will also provide energy, support focus and clarity during the day, and become active by dreaming and making new neural pathways between neurons (this is why it’s important to get sleep before a big exam!). During NREM, your body repairs and grows muscles, bones, tissues, and strengthens your immune system. However, it also naturally produces HGH. This is the foundation from with most HGH supplements build upon. By using certain ingredients, HGH products help you fall asleep faster, bring you to stage three of sleep faster, and keep you in a deep REM/NREM cycle for longer. By doing this, they increase the amount of natural GH produced, improve focus, provide a much greater feeling of rest the following day, and enhance your mood. Turns out Mom was right—sleep really does make everything better!


IGF-1, or “Insulin-like growth factor-1” is another ingredient frequently used in HGH supplements. Insulin is perhaps one of the most essential factors in muscle growth, so it comes as no surprise athletes jump at the opportunity to reap the benefits of a supplement that can provide muscular gains similar to that of Insulin’s. Less researched for athletic use yet still widely used and promoted, IGF-1 is undeniably an incredibly essential part of our ability to grow. Research has been done on mice who have been given Laron Syndrome (a human disease that primarily results in an IGF-1 deficiency and HGH resistance), and produced drastic results indicating a difference in size and growth between the mice with, and without, the syndrome. Their conclusion states that “IGF-1 is an important growth hormone, mediating the protein anabolic and linear growth promoting effect of pituitary GH. It has a GH independent growth stimulating effect, which with respect to cartilage cells is possibly optimized by the synergistic action with GH.”* Thus, IGF-1 proves itself an essential and beneficial addition to any HGH product. However, in larger quantities, multiple studies have linked IGF-1 with prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. The same study also produced results indicating that IGF-1 also “slows” aging by increasing muscle mass, thickening the skin and decreasing body fat in adults between the ages of sixty-one to eighty-two years old. However, they concluded that healthy individuals should be wary of IGF-1**. Though, supplemental IGF-1 is at a concentration far lesser than those used in medical studies. To be safe (with any supplement), we would suggest not to overdo it, and be sure to both cycle off, and read the directions of the supplement in question.


An extract of embryonated chicken eggs, this supplement ingredient provides a natural release of hormones by stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis. These hormones regulate sexual, hematopoietic, hepatic, and endocrine functions which in turn relieve stress while repairing and aiding in the growth of muscle. A comprehensive study can be found here:

Other ingredients

Other ingredients that are usually found in HGH products are:

  • Valerian root

    A natural root often found in health stores, CVS’s, and Rite Aids everywhere, this odd-smelling root is commonly supplemented to induce relaxation. Its properties help the individual fall asleep—however other ingredients can be used to keep you asleep. Such as…

  • Melatonin

    This naturally occurring hormone controls the circadian rhythms in humans (your natural sleep cycle), and thus can help you both fall asleep and stay asleep the whole night—providing a restful night of uninterrupted sleep.

  • Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

    Though the title may seem daunting, this ingredient significantly increases relaxation. A study on the effects of this ingredient can be found here:
  • Zinc and Magnesium

    The supplemental combination of Zinc and Magnesium have been found in many studies released for decades to promote rest, muscle growth, and overall muscle function.

  • Chamomile

    A natural herb that aids in relaxation that is commonly found in teas.

  • Various amino acids

    Often, L-Glutamine, L-Argenine (or Argenine Alpha-Ketaglutarate), L-Tryptophan, Leucine, Valine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Histidine, Threonine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Orthinine HCL, Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine, and others are incorporated into HGH supplements. Aminos, the building blocks of proteins, not only have many properties that promote muscle growth, but also promote rest and relaxation (primarily L-Tryptophan, commonly found in turkey—which is why you always feel like napping after Thanksgiving).

  • Deer Antler Velvet

    Research has shown this supplement has potential for improving osteoarthritis***. Though this supplement does not have much research backing it, we at Fitness First have received many positive reviews from customers, and carry one particularly reputable product. Try it out for yourself and let us know what you think!

So are they safe? Do they really work?

In the end, any quantity of a potentially harmful ingredient is no more of a threat than a soda or pizza from Domino’s (which probably contains far more harmful ingredients, in my opinion). Like with anything, moderation is key—as is following the directions! As long as you pay attention to the directions, lead a healthy lifestyle, and understand what these supplements do for you, there is no reason to be afraid or believe they are harmful.

What forms do they come in?

Often, HGH supplements come in a powder or pill form. Taken right before bedtime, these supplements will ensure you get at least 8 hours of sleep, so don’t take them if you’re anticipating any less—you will either sleep through your alarm, or be mind-numbingly groggy for hours after you wake up! Grogginess is a common side effect of these products even when an individual gets plenty of sleep when they first start taking these supplements. Don’t worry, this feeling will go away quickly after a warm shower (which will get blood circulating), some food (carbs for energy), and a glass of water (to re-hydrate), and after a few days the grogginess should cease to be an issue altogether.

The Bottom Line

The science behind HGH supplements is solid and well-researched. The name and negative implications of the term “HGH” often deter people from taking these supplements. However, once it’s understood how they work, many find themselves wondering why they never invested in these supplements earlier. There is a monumental difference between injecting HGH and looking like a three-hundred pound bodybuilder, and taking an HGH supplemental sleep aid to improve your rest, recovery, and muscle growth. Though these supplements are not essential to every athlete, I would strongly suggest they make the investment. Between the research’s findings, me and my clients’ experiences, one statement can summarize HGH products exceptionally well: they work.

* Cited study:

**Cited article:

***Cited study: