Women taking HGH for looks

HOUSTON It's been touted as a return to youth. But what does it really do?

Former model Amanda Whatley decided to start taking human growth hormone. She learned to give herself the shots which she believes will help her lose weight.

"At this point I'm on the cusp of watching myself go swish," she said. "I just feel so much better and my skin, my skin glows."

"Some of the really dramatic improvements are fat reduction, reduction in the amount of fat because it helps metabolize fat," said plastic surgeon Dr. Fred Aguilar who is Amanda's doctor.

Dr. Aguilar also says he prescribes growth hormone for anti-aging.

"The whole study of anti-aging is based on trying to maintain hormones in our body that keep us youthful as long as we don't overdo the dosages," he said.

But the FDA does not include anti-aging on its list of approved uses for human growth hormone.

HGH is FDA approved for children who have a deficiency, people with pituitary tumors or other specific diseases and AIDS patients.

"Give me pill, and it has to be a small pill, and I have to take it only once and it has to have no side effects," said Dr. Neal Reisman. "Everyone is looking for the magic something."

Reisman is St Luke's interim chief of plastic surgery and a lawyer. He's also on the board of a company that makes HGH but says it is no fountain of youth. It can even be harmful if it's misused.

"I know people who have developed cancers, diabetes, joint swellings, more signs of aging from inappropriate use of growth hormone," said Dr. Reisman.

And Dr. Reisman is also raising questions about the legality of HGH for anti-aging. The Food and Drug Administration says it is illegal to distribute HGH quote:

"For any use in humans other than the treatment of a disease or other recognized medical condition."

"I don't know that anyone has actually come out and said that we're in violation of this and they're gonna come after the doctors that do this," said Dr. Aguilar. "In my opinion, as long as we're not abusing it and we're keeping things within a physiologic level as a prescribing physician, I think we're ok with that."

Aguilar, who is a respected plastic surgeon here, says he prescribes HGH for less than 1% of his patients and that it is safe when used as directed.

"If you look at the doctors who run anti-aging clinics, there are numerous clinics in Houston that use this a lot," Dr. Aguilar. "They're the ones that have to be really careful of what the FDA may or may not do."

To prove someone has an HGH deficiency, you need to test for the growth hormone level. Aguilar says he does test his patients.

"We've been using it sparingly over the past five years and the people who've been on it, have really enjoyed it and have a renewed sense of energy and had improvement in some of the minor aches and pains," Dr. Aguilar said. "Is it a panacea for everything? No."

But Reisman cautions, "I think patients and physicians need to be very careful."

Sales of HGH worldwide are estimated at more than one and a half billion dollars.


Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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