People often speak about their health as though they’re at the mercy of their hormones. The reality, though, is that your hormones are at the mercy of your choices — specifically, your nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise choices.
In fact, the decisions you make can sabotage or support these regulatory substances in your body, which means you have more control than you probably realize. Growth hormone is just one of many hormones that are affected.
What is Growth Hormone?
As its name suggests, growth hormone (also known as somatotropin) influences tissue growth and repair. Its primary role is in cell regeneration throughout life.
The pituitary gland secretes growth hormone in response to low blood sugar, hunger, and exercise, and during deep sleep.
Growth hormone has many functions: It 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 well-being.
Growth hormone is responsible for the rapid growth of a newborn or an adolescent teenager. And 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
Though thyroid hormone is the primary metabolic-rate regulator, growth hormone influences metabolism as well. It enhances cardiac output, which increases blood flow to muscle tissue and specific organs.
Studies show growth hormone can increase metabolic rate by 10 to 20 percent.
Growth hormone (GH) 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,” GH 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 or when you fast, growth hormone levels rise to conserve amino acids, which spares muscle and increases fat metabolism.
Symptoms of Low Growth Hormone
The following are common symptoms of low growth hormone.
|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 are experiencing some of the symptoms above, it doesn’t mean you have low growth hormone, though it is a possibility.
People often have multiple hormone imbalances all at once, which is why we always recommend a complete, annual lab panel for those over the age of 30.
What Causes Low Growth Hormone?
While genetic factors cause low growth hormone in a small percentage of the population, it’s more likely that your diet and lifestyle choices are the cause of low growth hormone. The following are the most common contributors.
Excess fat, especially around the belly, blunts growth-hormone secretion.
Unfortunately, lower growth hormone can increase fat gain and cause muscle loss. If you don’t do something about this cycle with your diet, lifestyle, and exercises choices, you can end up on a downward spiral, gaining more fat, losing more muscle, and further lowering your growth hormone levels.
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. One reason for this is that it takes time for your body to secrete growth hormone normally again.
For those who are obese, not even low blood sugar stimulates growth hormone, which is 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 percent.
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.
Bedtime, food choices, and alcohol consumption 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 can return to normal. This allows for optimal growth hormone secretion during sleep.
Hypoglycemia and hunger are significant 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.
While a drop in blood sugar stimulates growth hormone, constantly low blood sugar, like you experience on a ketogenic diet also suppresses GH section.
Elevated fatty acids in the blood blunt growth hormone as well. So, if follow a low-carb protocol, and you snack on coconut oil, drink heavy whipping cream, and fill up on fat bombs, you’ll also blunt GH.
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 usually no need for snacks unless you’re a competitive athlete.
After the age of 30, growth-hormone levels drop an average of 14 percent per year. Of course, this is for the average person.
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 who adopts healthier lifestyle and nutrition habits could end up with better growth-hormone levels than his or her 35-year-old child.
Growth Hormone and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1
Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-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 a healthy body-fat percentage, IGF-1 mimics the rise and fall of growth hormone. Normal IGF-1 indicates normal growth hormone, while 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, while 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.
Other hormones affect growth hormone, just as growth hormone affects other hormones.
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.
(If you haven’t had your hormones tested recently, we recommend a complete lab panel each year. If your doctor won’t order one for you, we recommend ordering the Ultimate All In One lab panel.)
Regular alcohol consumption suppresses growth-hormone secretion. Low blood sugar and deep sleep, the two most potent triggers of growth hormone, have little effect 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.
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 higher than 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, or the thickening of bone and other tissues. Since they can no longer grow up, their bodies get thicker instead.
In addition to the change in growth, hypersomatotropism causes pancreatic cell dysfunction, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. It can also cause high blood pressure and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
How to Increase Growth Hormone
If you believe you or a family member has hypersomatotropism, 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 read above, most of the causes of low growth hormone are the result of lifestyle and nutrition choices.
Change your choices consistently, and you could experience a dramatic improvement in growth hormone. This can in turn affect how you look, feel, and perform.
Sleep a Minimum of 7 Hours Per Night
When you sacrifice sleep, your mental and physical performance declines. You also do damage to your brain.
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.
You owe it to yourself, as well as everyone who depends on you, to get enough quality sleep.
Read more: Sleep: Your Guide to a Better Brain and Body.
Take a Break From Eating
Ghrelin, the hunger hormone that stimulates growth-hormone secrestion., rises a few hours after eating. You usually notice the effects of ghrelin a few hours after a meal, when your stomach starts to growl.
Unfortunately, most people reach for a snack when that happens. Some have even bought into the myth that they need to eat every few hours or they’ll lose muscle and slow down their metabolism. This simply isn’t true.
Eating constantly prevents growth hormone from rising. In fact, you could go a couple of days without food, and growth hormone would still remain high. Elevated GH helps conserve muscle mass while you’re fasting.
This is one of the benefits of intermittent fasting. It increases GH, which stimulates fat metabolism and preserves muscle mass.
Competitive athletes being an exception, most people don’t need to eat more than two or three times per day.
That said, there is an exception for 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, supplementing with 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. It causes micro levels of muscle-tissue damage, and growth hormone rises following any kind of physical stress.
Assuming you train in a fasted state (which is what we usually recommend), exercise lowers blood sugar. This drop in blood sugar stimulates growth hormone, too.
In the Keto crowd? Skip the pre-workout fat bomb: 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.
One study showed that those who incorporated exercise into their weight-loss program and maintained the lost weight experienced a 40-percent increase in growth hormone.
Eat Protein With Each Meal
Growth hormone and insulin rise in response to protein consumption. Insulin helps shuttle amino acids into cells. Growth hormone stimulates protein synthesis, which makes use of the amino acids for tissue growth and repair.
Fat and carbs do not stimulate growth-hormone secretion. In fact, lower-protein, higher-fat diets like a ketogenic diet could suppress overall growth-hormone levels. This is one of the many concerns with a long-term, strict ketogenic diet.
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 used in Life Time multivitamins, is made of magnesium bound to glycine. You get the calming effects of magnesium, which can support sleep, plus an amino acid that supports growth hormone production.
One study showed arginine has been shown to increase growth-hormone levels by 700 percent. 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 2 grams, though most other benefits of glutamine seem to require 3 to 5 grams. Glutamine has a ton of other health benefits, so you might want to include this in your daily regimen whether you have low growth hormone or note.
Melatonin supports growth-hormone secretion by enhancing deep sleep, as well as by directly stimulating growth-hormone release.
If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s these two points:
- 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 — and perhaps more-so than other hormones.
What you do with this information is up to you, though I hope you’ll use what you’ve learned to change some of your lifestyle choices for the healthier — because they have the potential change the trajectory of your health for the future.