The Aesthetic Guide is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The merits of pill popping supplements bears scrutiny

Article-The merits of pill popping supplements bears scrutiny

Key iconKey Points

  • In a study, patients receiving growth hormone were significantly more likely to experience soft tissue edema, arthralgias, carpal tunnel syndrome and gynecomastia.

The anti-aging market is aggressively hyping supplements and shots purporting to support longevity from within. And while your patients might love to have that "magic pill," according to recent research into growth hormone and other compounds boasting anti-aging properties, few offer real benefits — and others, in fact, risk adverse effects.


Human growth hormone (HGH) is commonly promoted for anti-aging purposes, although not FDA-approved for this purpose. To determine the safety and efficacy of growth hormone use in the healthy elderly, researchers from Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System conducted a review in 2007 of HGH trials.

Dr. Liu
Their review included 31 articles describing 18 studies involving a total of 220 patients who had received HGH in their respective trials. All were elderly (mean age, 69 years) and obese (mean BMI, 28 kg/m2). Initial daily dose and treatment duration varied (mean, 14 μg per kg of body weight, and mean, 27 weeks, respectively.) Treated patients had a decrease in overall fat mass and an increase in overall lean body mass; however, their weight did not change significantly. Additionally, patients' total cholesterol levels decreased, although the change was not significant after adjusting for changes in body composition. Notably, these benefits were accompanied by some side effects. Patients receiving HGH were significantly more likely to experience soft tissue edema, arthralgias, carpal tunnel syndrome and gynecomastia. They were also somewhat more likely to develop diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting glucose.

"Our [review] basically looked to evaluate the safety and efficacy of growth hormone for anti-aging purposes," Hau Liu, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. Dr. Liu, Associate Chief of Endocrinology, Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, Stanford University, was lead author of the paper. "Our conclusions are that we would not recommend growth hormone for anti-aging purposes based on a few conclusions. First, there are very few rigorous scientific data evaluating the effects of growth hormone on anti-aging in particular. When you compare it to drug trials that include thousands and thousands of patients, this has very few patients overall. Second, the data suggest that there is perhaps minimal benefit. You may get a few pounds to change from fat mass to lean body mass. Primarily, we saw body composition changes, without statistically significant changes in other key parameters," Dr. Liu explains.

Ironically, he notes that some patients are spending hundreds to thousands of dollars each month on growth hormone for relatively minimal benefit. "If you were to spend that money at a gym and get a trainer, you could certainly get comparable or perhaps better results."

Of even more concern to him are both the possibility for the potentially serious side effects observed — and its off-label use in the first place.

"Growth hormone distribution for this purpose is actually illegal in the United States," he emphasizes.


In the antioxidant supplement realm, while some have been found to have positive effects on lifespan, others have the opposite effect. Scientists at the Buck Institute for Age Research just north of San Francisco tested 40 antioxidants in an animal model and found that only four — lipoic acid, propyl gallate, trolox, and taxifolin — extended the lifespan of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans by 15 percent to 20 percent. The remaining 36 antioxidants had no effect or, in fact, caused harm to the microscopic worms.

"We've had a careful look at the way antioxidants affect aging in very simple animals and we've found that there's a real hodge-podge of effects," study author Gordon Lithgow, Ph.D., senior research fellow, Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, tells CST. "We can see antioxidants that appear to do really nice things. They appear to make the animals live healthier for longer, and we also found antioxidants that have precisely the opposite effect. They compromise the organism's survival," he says.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.