I recently received an email from a reader asking me about my opinion of the new Growth Factor-9 product by Novex Biotech. This is the latest supplement that claims to support the natural secretion of HGH (human growth hormone).
The idea of boosting HGH secretion through the use of supplements sounds promising, but a closer look reveals some holes in the argument supporting their use.
In today’s post we’ll take a look at Growth Factor-9 and discuss growth hormone as it relates to muscle building and fat loss.
More after the jump…
I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of buzz about growth hormone in the fitness community right now. A lot of what you read and hear however is grossly exaggerated, most of which is coming from individuals who don’t fully understand the mechanisms behind growth hormone or its metabolic implications.
In short, there’s a general consensus that if you stimulate growth hormone release with exercise, or increase levels through supplementation, all of sudden you’ll find yourself lean, ripped, and muscular. Ah, if it were only that easy.
Of all the hormones we deem anabolic for muscle growth such as testosterone, insulin, IGF-1, etc, in comparison growth hormone is fairly irrelevant.
In fact, it’s really not much of an anabolic agent for muscle growth at all. Sure it plays a role in lean tissue repair and recovery, but a “magic muscle building hormone” it’s not.
Most of the research studies confirm that even injectable HGH doesn’t have a huge impact on muscle growth. There may likely be an increase in lean body mass (LBM), but it’s largely going to come from body fat decreases.
Bodybuilders will be quick to argue this point, but in reality their gains in lean muscle came from increased inter-muscular cellular water retention, faster recovery, and repair of lean tissue.
In short, they were able to lift heavier, with higher intensity, and recover quicker. The mechanisms were indirect as opposed to direct.
Now in this case we’re talking about taking large doses of injectable HGH, something that comes with its own set of side-effects and negatives.
The natural decrease in HGH secretion that comes with aging is very real, and this isn’t an indictment on the use of hormonal replacement strategies supervised by a physician for older adults. That’s a whole other subject for discussion another day.
But what about stimulating the naturally occurring pulses of growth hormone through supplementation?
Most of the products out there use amino acids as primary ingredients to supposedly stimulate HGH production. Growth Factor-9 uses the same premise and has the following amino acids in their proprietary formula:
Arginine is an amino acid that’s best known for it’s ability to boost nitric oxide (NO) levels. It’s found in the majority of nitric oxide supplements obviously for that reason. While arginine plays a role in helping to increase HGH under the right conditions (by inhibiting the production of somatostatin, a hormone that impairs growth hormone production), you don’t need a fancy supplement to get it.
The bottom line on arginine as a viable HGH release agent is far from complete. One study I found from UCLA showed that arginine produces no increase in HGH with exercise and actually may impair HGH release during weight training.
Oral arginine does not stimulate basal or augment exercise-induced GH secretion in either young or old adults. Marcell et al. 1999 Aug;54(8):M395-9
All of this is sort of insignificant as the leverage with growth hormone occurs mostly during nighttime recovery, not during the workout anyways.
Acetylcysteine is an amino acid that helps protect the muscle cells from oxidative damage that occurs during high intensity training. Once again, it may lead to improved recovery, more muscular endurance, etc, but it has a limited role on directly stimulating HGH secretions.
Glutamine is an amino acid that plays a role in HGH production with studies showing a correlation between the two along with having a positive role in immune system function, cellular repair, and recovery.
High intensity training, or long-duration training, can drop normal glutamine levels in the blood by as much as 50 percent. Endurance athletes like those completing marathons, often catch a cold following their races, now you know why. Glutamine is a fairly inexpensive amino acid that can be found in powdered or capsule form. It’s worthy of consideration for supplementation.
Other ingredients listed for Growth Factor-9 include L-Lysine HCL (amino acid), Schizonepeta (an herb primarily used to enhance immune system function), and Oxo-Proline (which is an amino acid derivative), to name a few. There’s also other vitamins, minerals, and herbal adaptogens.
The inside scoop on the manufacturers claim that Growth Factor 9 produces a 682% mean increase in serum growth hormone…
All of these ingredients and several other vitamins and herbal adaptogens make up their proprietary formula in apparently just the right combination the manufacturer claims will produce a 682% mean increase in serum growth hormone levels.
It says so right on the label, so it must be true, right?
Where’s the research study that confirms this? Your guess is as good as mine as I couldn’t find it referenced on their website anywhere.
UPDATE: February 12, 2013
Interestingly the manufacturer’s (Novex Biotech) website has updated their page on Growth Factor 9 to now include reference to a research study supporting their claim. Reference study ID #PBR10043. A quick Google search provided reference to a study conducted by the Pennington Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA, but little detail was provided on the testing methods and peer review. More on that in a minute…
Regardless, is this clever marketing? Yes, as there’s no doubt it will help to sell a lot of product. But is it 100% credible and totally factual? Well that’s the million dollar question.
What they’re not telling you about growth hormone increases…
The thing about amino acid supplementation promoting growth hormone secretion is washed in misconceptions. It’s important to understand that amino acids or other organic compounds found in pill or powder form, do not act like drugs to produce a sudden surge in growth hormone.
Even if they did there are negative feedback loops that would negate the benefits, such as somatostatin released from the hypothalamus acting to inhibit HGH secretion. It’s all one big balancing act.
Growth hormone or (Somatotropin) is a protein hormone that is synthesized and secreted by cells called somatotrophs in the pituitary gland. Secretion of growth hormone is a complex process to say the least, regulated by the hypothalamus and peptide hormones such as somatostatin and ghrelin.
I won’t bore you with all the details in this post, but just know that amino acids and other secretagogues won’t signal your pituitary to start dumping out large burst of HGH, instead they’ll likely be stimulating IGF-1 (insulin growth factor hormone) secretion from the liver.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as IGF-1 is more of a mediator for muscle growth than HGH, but then again chronically high levels of IGF-1 has it’s own set of problems (links to insulin resistance, type II diabetes, breast cancer, etc).
Some questions to ponder…
Was the testing used to make the claim of “682% increase in serum growth hormone levels” measuring IGF-1 or HGH? And in the end will it really matter in terms of increased muscle growth or improved fat loss?
If the testing was conducted on individuals following an overnight fast, are we to expect the same results in increased serum levels of growth hormone if something is eaten for breakfast?
The directions indicate to take the capsules first thing in the morning and not eat ANYTHING for two hours or take it at night two hours after your last meal.
Let’s remember that HGH isn’t some magic hormone that melts away body fat or increases muscle growth all on it’s own. There’s plenty of research to support this fact.
Growth is a very complex process, we’ve got to factor in the coordinated action of several hormones, protein synthesis, protein breakdown, caloric balances, and a host of other factors related to nutritional intake and fitness training routines.
The major role of growth hormone for stimulating muscle growth is by signaling the liver and other tissues to secrete IGF-1. It’s IGF-1 that appears to be the key player in muscle growth by stimulating amino acid uptake and protein synthesis.
It’s important to understand there’s integration of several factors contributing to HGH secretion which is why it naturally occurs in the body with small pulsating releases. The majority of HGH release occurs at night with deep REM sleep.
It’s nice to think that if you were taking a pill that could increase blood serum levels of HGH that you’d get bigger in the gym, see ripped six pack abs, and have better sex. And yeah that sells product.
The reality is though the above is unlikely to happen unless you were taking direct injection of HGH at a high enough dosage, and like we said that has it’s own set of drawbacks.
It’s more about negating the idea one can expect significant muscle growth or fat loss from any proprietary formula of amino acids and other organic compounds in pill form.
My personal opinion and recommendations
I understand the lure of products promoting an increase in growth hormone release. A lot of people from athletes to the average trainee looking to cut body fat and increase muscle will find the premise appealing.
Unfortunately, I think there’s more hype than direct correlation with physiological improvements.
What’s the best way to stimulate natural secretion of HGH?
Taking supplements off the table for a second, perhaps one of the most effective strategies will be doing short bursts of high intensity exercise like burst training for resistance workouts and interval training for cardio workouts.
Combine some good old fashioned high intensity weight training with smart nutrition strategies and adequate rest and recovery periods and you’ll optimize the secretion of HGH and IGF-1. The majority of growth hormone release occurs at night like we talked about so the value of a good night’s sleep can’t be emphasized enough.
At $100 per bottle (120 capsules), the Growth Factor-9 product is certainly not cheap. While the ingredients may play a role in helping to support the natural secretion of HGH and improve recovery, there are other alternatives worthy of consideration.
L-Glutamine and Arginine are both fairly cheap and easy to find in capsule or powdered form. I use both of these amino acids and do feel they have value with recovery and muscle growth.
You may consider adding the above to your post-workout and night-time supplementation as there’s little downside and possibly some upside with improved recovery and growth.
While you can get these amino acids in powder form or capsules from Optimum Nutrition and other high quality supplement lines , I’ve recently been experimenting with some Advocare products and been impressed with the results.
The first is the Advocare Nighttime Recovery formula (capsules) and the other is the Advocare Arginine Extreme (drink powder).
The Nighttime Recovery formula has amino acids L- Arginine and L-Ornithine plus several vitamins, minerals, and adaptogenic herbs, many of the same which are in the Growth Factor 9 product. The difference is you’ll have about $25 invested in a bottle instead of $100.
Click here to learn more about Advocare Nighttime Recovery
The Arginine Extreme drink powder has 40 servings in a container and incorporates the following:
L-Arginine: 2,500 mg
L-Leucine: 800 mg
L-Glutamine: 200 mg
L-Lysine: 100 mg
Tarine: 100 mg
Vitamin B-12: 1.5 mcg
Biotin: 250 mcg
Folic Acid: 100 mcg
Vitamin B-6: 500 mcg
Riboflavin: 500 mcg
It tastes great and what I’ve been doing is adding the powder to my water bottle and drinking it approximately 20 minutes before my workout and sipping on it throughout the training session.
Click here to learn more about Advocare Arginine Extreme
The Nighttime Recovery formula has taken the place of Optimum ZMA, which I used to take and had positive results with in the past as a nighttime recovery agent. I like the Advocare formula a little better due to the adaptogens and I have seen improved recovery and sleep.
The Arginine Extreme is my pre-workout drink and I typically follow post-workout with 20 grams of whey protein powder and a small amount of simple carbs.
Could you just take the amino acids straight up and go on the cheap?
Yeah I guess you could give it a shot, but I’m not so sure it’s going to have the same benefit as an integrated formula. There is something to be said about the synergy with other vitamins, minerals, and adaptogens. Amino acids are not much different than other organic compounds in that they don’t work in isolation.
Wrapping up, I don’t suspect that we’re going to see a significant increase in HGH production that has a huge impact through the use of any nutritional supplement taken orally.
While many of the ingredients we’ve discussed undoubtedly play a role in the process, be realistic in what you’re taking them for…they’re metabolic activators, not magic bullets!
While the Growth Factor-9 product may be less expensive than direct injections of HGH, there’s no real comparison with the two anyways. An oral secretagogue is NOT going to work the same as a direct injection of HGH.
If you’ve used the Growth Factor 9 product I’d love to hear your feedback. Not trying to completely knock it, just want to share some science and look at some possible alternatives that may be less expensive.
At the end of the day there’s never going to be a replacement for hard work in the gym, good nutrition, and adequate rest anyways.
I’m all about supplementation that helps improve recovery, but you could always experiment with L-Glutamine and Arginine taken in reasonable dosages directly or perhaps try the Advocare products I’ve been testing if you’re hesitant spending a hundred dollar bill for Growth Factor 9.
Frankly, if you trained hard enough, got good sleep, and followed a supportive nutrition diet, you really wouldn’t “need” to buy any of the mentioned supplements. Remember it’s all a means to optimize metabolic functions, not provide magical results.
Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults.