Human growth hormone (HGH) is often touted as the key to slowing down the aging process, which may have you searching for natural HGH foods to increase your levels. Unfortunately, despite the claims on the internet, there's no evidence to support that any food can increase your production of HGH.
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What Is HGH?
Human growth hormone (HGH) is protein-based hormone produced by a pea-sized gland found at the base of your brain called the pituitary gland. It has many functions and plays many vital roles throughout the course of your life. During childhood and adolescence, the hormone stimulates the growth of your bones and cartilage.
HGH also plays a significant role in your body's metabolism. According to Colorado State University, HGH stimulates anabolism (building of protein), enhances the breakdown of fat for energy and is a major player in the maintenance of your blood sugar levels by suppressing the production of insulin.
Growth hormone levels tend to increase during childhood and peak when you hit puberty. Your HGH levels remain fairly steady until you reach middle age, when they start to decline.
Interestingly, the natural HGH levels in your blood are generally low during the day and increase at night while you're sleeping. Exercise and trauma also tend to cause an increase your natural HGH levels. According to Harvard Health Publishing, given that HGH levels are at their peak while you're sleeping, sporadic HGH testing may not paint an accurate picture of your actual HGH levels.
What Controls HGH Secretion?
According to Colorado State University, HGH secretion may be influenced by many outside factors, including stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition. However, secretion of HGH is primarily controlled by hormones produced in your stomach and your hypothalamus, a small gland found in your brain near your pituitary gland.
As the name implies, growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) is primarily responsible for the secretion of HGH into your blood. It's also responsible for the production of the hormone itself. GHRH is produced in your hypothalamus.
Somatostatin is also produced in your hypothalamus, as well as other tissues throughout your body, and is the hormone that suppresses the release of HGH into your blood. Your GHRH levels, as well as your blood sugar levels, influence production of somatostatin and the suppression of HGH secretion.
Often referred to as the hunger hormone, ghrelin is a hormone found in your stomach that also indirectly increases the secretion of HGH into your blood by suppressing production of somatostatin. According to an August 2014 review published in Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, by stimulating HGH secretion, ghrelin helps your body stimulate the production of protein while conserving the proteins already present in your cells.
Manage Insulin With Low-Glycemic Foods
According to an October 2017 review published in Acta Physiologica Sinica, excessive insulin levels suppress HGH secretion. What you eat can influence insulin levels in your blood. While they may not be HGH foods, eating more low-glycemic foods may have a positive effect on your HGH levels by helping prevent excessive levels of insulin in your blood.
Carbohydrate-containing foods affect your blood sugar levels. Some cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar, and these are referred to as high-glycemic foods. While others cause only a small, but steady rise in blood sugar, and are called low-glycemic foods.
When blood sugar is elevated, your body reacts by releasing insulin to help usher the sugar into your cells for energy. A diet filled with high-glycemic foods may increase insulin secretion, and thereby suppress HGH secretion.
To keep blood sugar and insulin levels even, fill your diet with low-glycemic foods such as:
- Whole-grain breads and oatmeal
- Pasta, rice, barley and bulgur
- Most fresh fruits
- Sweet potatoes and corn
- Beans, lentils and peas
- All non-starchy vegetables
While there's no evidence to support that eating a low-glycemic diet affects your HGH levels, including more of these healthy foods in your diet has other health benefits. Low-glycemic foods are better at controlling hunger, which may benefit your waistline according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For people with Type 2 diabetes, eating a diet filled with more low-glycemic foods helps to lower blood insulin, triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Read more: Low-Glycemic Indian Foods
Intermittent Fasting and HGH
Since the hunger hormone ghrelin plays a role in the secretion of HGH, you may be tempted to try intermittent fasting to increase levels. Intermittent fasting is a technique in which you alternate between periods of eating and fasting at set intervals, which may range from 13 to 36 hours. According to Harvard Health Publishing, intermittent fasting has been shown to be an effective tool for weight loss and may also improve cardiac health, but the diet itself may be difficult to follow.
While there haven't been any specific studies investigating the effects of intermittent fasting on HGH levels, a July 2017 review published in the Annual Review of Nutrition noted that fasting had a positive influence on metabolic processes, including hormone levels.
If you're considering intermittent fasting, consult with your doctor or talk to a dietitian before you make any changes to your eating style to make sure it's a safe plan for you.
Read more: 13 DOs and DON'Ts of Intermittent Fasting
The Truth About L-Arginine
If you're an athlete or an active individual, you may have heard that supplementing with L-arginine may improve your performance by influencing insulin and HGH levels. L-arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid, which means your body can make it on its own but production may be lessened when you're sick or under stress. Like other amino acids, L-arginine supports protein building.
A March 2014 study published in Food & Nutrition Research investigated the effects of L-arginine supplementation on insulin and HGH levels in a group of trained runners. The participants were given either 6 grams of L-arginine or a placebo prior to exercising. According to the authors of the study, L-arginine supplementation had no effect on HGH levels. To be fair, this study was small and included only 15 participants.
However, it's not the only study to come to the same conclusion. A January 2014 study published in Nutrition Research investigated the effects of 6 grams of L-arginine versus a placebo on growth hormone levels in a group of runners. This was a four-week study that included 15 participants given either 6 grams of L-arginine or a placebo, and the researchers also concluded that supplementation with the amino acid had no effect on growth hormone levels.
Can I Take a Supplement?
When you're deficient in human growth hormone, which is a diagnosed medical condition, your doctor prescribes human growth hormone injections to restore levels. While you can find HGH in pill form at your local vitamin shop, there's no proof that these supplements can affect your actual hormone levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you're looking for a way to slow down the aging process, you may have more luck making a few changes to your lifestyle than adding so-called HGH foods that may or may not affect your hormone levels. Instead, improve your health and slow down aging by filling your diet with healthy whole foods and getting regular exercise, which does increase HGH secretion.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Growth Hormone, Athletic Performance and Aging"
- Mayo Clinic: "Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Does It Slow Aging?"
- Better Health Channel: "Growth Hormone"
- Colorado State University: "Growth Hormone (Somatotropin)"
- American Diabetes Association: "Glycemic Index and Diabetes"
- Acta Physiologica Sinica: "Influence of Insulin on Growth Hormone Secretion, Level and Growth Hormone Signalling"
- Nutrition Research: "L-Arginine Does Not Improve Biochemical and Hormonal Response in Trained Runners After 4 Weeks of Supplementation"
- Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research: "Ghrelin: Ghrelin as a Regulatory Peptide in Growth Hormone Secretion"
- Annual Review of Nutrition: "Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "What Is Glycemic Index?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Intermittent Fasting"
- Mayo Clinic: "L-Arginine"
- Food & Nutrition Research: "Hormonal Response to L-Arginine Supplementation in Physically Active Individuals"