Growth Hormone in the Treatment of HIV/AIDS Patients
Human growth hormone (HGH) is known more for its use by bodybuilders, athletes and those looking to slow aging. But these uses aren’t, in fact, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The substance is intended for few medical conditions. Among the groups of people legally permitted to access HGH therapy are those living with HIV or AIDS. It is thought that the hormone can help to improve the health of such people. But how? That is what we will be addressing in this article.
HIV/AIDS and growth hormone
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is one of the most dreaded today. The virus does not yet have a known cure. It is usually transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, and semen. This means it is more likely to be passed via sexual activity. But a person can also contract the infection via broken skin or through mucous membranes. In some cases, HIV leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Human growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance that is secreted by the pituitary gland in the head. It contributes to many important processes within the body. So, low levels could lead to many unpleasant effects on health. It is in order to guard against these horrible outcomes that scientists produced a recombinant (synthetic) variant. This is legally intended for medical conditions that are connected to growth hormone deficiency.
HGH is also now being used to deal with certain symptoms seen in HIV/AIDS patients. The availability for this purpose, however, appears to depend on what part of the world you live. One of the notable brands of synthetic growth hormone made for this group of users is Serostim. The product is by the former Switzerland-based biotechnology company Serono, which is now a division of the German company Merck.
How can HGH be beneficial to HIV/AIDS patients?
Well, growth hormone may benefit people who have HIV/AIDS the same way it does some of those who use it for off-label purposes. The most obvious difference is that a group of users take it to manage symptoms of a medical condition while others use it for cosmetic purposes. Let’s consider important ways this substance may improve overall quality of patients’ life.
This is the main reason why growth hormone is used for treatment of HIV/AIDS patients. Wasting, also known as cachexia, is a rather troubling outcome of these related conditions. It is characterized by loss of lean body mass similar to that seen in some cancer patients. It causes internal tissue, bones and organs to deteriorate. Wasting is more commonly seen in the later stages of AIDS.
HIV/AIDS-related wasting increases the risk of patients dying from their condition. It is more likely to result in death when the reduction in healthy body weight is more than 33 percent.
Now, it has long been known that growth hormone can increase lean body mass. This is the reason why professional bodybuilders are said to take it. In August 1996, the FDA approved recombinant HGH for treatment of wasting from HIV or AIDS.
Studies have also revealed that HGH could really be beneficial in this regard. Researchers observed in a study of 178 patients with wasting from AIDS that three months of growth hormone therapy led to an increase of 6.6 pounds in lean body mass, on average. In a 1998 research review, Windisch and associates noted that trials involving the use of recombinant HGH for managing wasting in AIDS patients had been promising. In some cases, growth hormone is used together with anabolic steroids for improved results.
This describes unusual distribution of fat in the body. There is a type of lipodystrophy known as HIV-associated adipose redistribution syndrome (HARS). As the name suggests, this affects HIV patients. It is characterized by irregular accumulation of visceral and truncal fat. This is not really life-threatening. But it can impact adversely on the level of confidence of patients, as it has to do with body image.
Research shows that growth hormone therapy can help overcome the lipodystrophy associated to HIV/AIDS. In the study with 178 patients mentioned previously, HGH therapy led to an average of three pounds decrease in body fat. Burgess et al observed in a 2005 research review that patients with visceral fat buildup benefited from therapy. However, the level of improvement depended on doses used.
Similarly, researchers investigated the effects of HGH treatment on 55 AIDS patients with low levels in a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They observed that the low-dose injections led to 10% drop in the amount of fat deposits around organs in the abdominal region. Levels of triglycerides in blood and blood pressure also decreased.
Growth hormone may also give the immunity of AIDS patients a boost. This is partly because of how it improves lean muscle mass. Some professionals have observed that the loss of lean body mass seen in these people is a contributor to immune dysfunction. When the body is not able to fight infections, this worsens the rate of survival.
Also, HGH therapy may benefit HIV/AIDS patients due to the effect it is believed to have on the thymus gland. It is known that this gland shrinks as a person grows older. This is possibly an explanation of why older individuals typically have reduced ability to fight infections. Researchers think growth hormone may help to regenerate the thymus. This can enhance the immune system of AIDS patients. The substance can help ramp up production of T-lymphocytes (T-cells), which are crucial to the fight against diseases.
The thymus gland produces CD4+ and CD8+ cells, vital immune system cells. It has been observed that the amount of these key components falls in HIV patients as the infection worsens. Of particular concern is the drop in the levels of CD4+ cells. So, it is good to know that growth hormone may help to regenerate the thymus gland and promote development of T-cells.
Evidence of HGH effect on thymus gland and immune cell production was shown in a 2002 study. Researchers administered daily doses of recombinant growth hormone between 4.5 IU and 9 IU to healthy HIV patients. It was then observed that this led to significant improvement in the size of the thymus gland. The improvement was more than what was seen when relying only on anti-HIV therapy. An increase in the amount of CD4 cells also showed that the thymus had improved in its functioning.
Several other studies have also indicated the usefulness of HGH therapy to HIV patients. Another of such appeared was published in the Journal of Immune Based Therapies and Vaccines in 2008. The effect of the substance was tested on T-cell responses specific to HIV 1 in patients on highly active retroviral therapy (HAART). Effects on thymic output and pro-viral DNA were also evaluated.
The team of researchers divided the chronic HIV 1 patients into three groups. A group got rHGH on alternate days and another two times a week. The third group got placebo. Marked improvement in both CD4+ and CD8+ HIV-1-specific T-cell responses was observed. The level of CD4+ T-cell responses was dependent on frequency of HGH dosing. HIV-1 DNA was stable and there was no noteworthy change in thymic output.
Patients with HIV/AIDS are observed to be at increased risk of suffering cardiovascular disease. Serum lipid levels surge and there is dyslipidaemia. The amount of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, rises while that of high-density lipoprotein drops. The patients, especially those in advanced stages, usually have high blood fat and total cholesterol levels. Some experts link these unpleasant changes to the drugs used for treatment of patients.
Human growth hormone is thought to help regulate triglyceride and cholesterol levels. It may assist in enhancing fasting lipid profiles. This makes it potentially beneficial to AIDS patients in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.
The different benefits of HGH are somewhat intertwined. For example, HGH is said to help to promote weight loss by causing the body to burn fat for energy. So while it helps you maintain good body composition, it also makes necessary energy available. This is good news to HIV/AIDS patients who often feel lethargic, partly from the effect of the drugs they take.
Growth hormone works at cellular level. It facilitates release of energy at this level as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Increased amount of this “energy currency of life” boosts cell activity throughout the body. This effect can help to address the feeling of tiredness typically experienced by those with the HIV infection.
Just as they experience body wasting, AIDS patients may also go through loss of bone density. This causes their bones to become weak and brittle. They can become highly susceptible to bone fractures from this. Growth hormone has been shown in multiple studies to help improve bone density.
Koutkia et al suggested in a 2005 double blind, placebo controlled study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that HGH may improve bone density of people with HIV. They examined the effects of growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) in 31 men with HIV infection. GHRH, which stimulates natural growth hormone production, enhanced bone metabolism in the patients. Improved bone turnover may lead to better bone density.
Risks of HGH therapy
While growth hormone seems to offer amazing benefits to AIDS patients, you also need to note that it also comes with its risks. The likely side effects include:
- Fluid retention or swelling
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Abnormal growth
- Breast enlargement in men
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Type 2 diabetes
- Skin cancers
But it appears the likelihood of side effects is correlated to the dose of recombinant HGH used. In a large-scale, randomized study of more than 640 patients, researchers observed this pattern in treatment of AIDS wasting. Subjects who received HGH injections daily for up to 24 weeks showed greater rise in blood sugar levels than those who got them on alternate days.
It is important for an HIV/AIDS patient to speak with a doctor when considering HGH therapy. Thankfully, it is legal for this purpose in the United States and some other places. People with HIV infection should settle for nothing other than prescription growth hormone. This is the most effective method for boosting levels of the substance in the body. Involvement of a medical professional is crucial to better reduce risk of side effects.