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Originally developed to help address development disorders, a drug called somatropin (also sold as the branded drug, Genotropin) is being touted as the ultimate weapon against ageing and the elixir of youth.

Devotees claim it can do everything from reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass to reversing the signs of ageing.

But critics say that in their quest for beauty, users are playing with a ticking timebomb, suggesting that the legacy of the drug could be joint and muscle pain, diabetes and even cancer.

Atropine is a synthetic version of a hormone that occurs naturally in the body.

Human growth hormone (hGH) is essential for body growth and is produced by the body in increasing amounts throughout childhood.

Production peaks in most people around the age of 30 and then declines. So, at the age of 20, you probably produce around 500 micrograms of hGH a day; by the time you're 40, it's closer to 200 micrograms; and at the age of 80, it's likely to be no more than 25 micrograms.

Convinced that these diminished levels are the cause of the ageing process, affluent 40 and 50-somethings are illegally procuring the drug over the internet or via unscrupulous doctors.

Think of any A-list woman of a certain age and it's almost a given that she's been linked to hGH.

Elixir of youth: Genotropin can reduce body fat and increase muscle mass to reverse the signs of ageing
Courtney Love reputedly left a vial of the substance in an LA hotel room and other celebrities are rumoured to be fans of the stuff, which is usually administered by injection.

Courtney Love: The rock star allegedly left a viral of Genotropin in a hotel room
One British user, who does not wish to be identified, self-administers hGH that she buys over the internet at a cost of £600 a month.

'It's wonderful stuff,' she says. 'I started using hGH after a skiing accident a few years ago when I damaged all the tendons around my shoulder.

'Two years after the accident, I still couldn't move it properly, so a friend who was a body-builder suggested that I tried hGH.

'After just three months, my shoulder had completely recovered, but it was the other benefits that got me hooked. My eyes were brighter, my skin seemed firmer, my complexion was much more even and my hair was thicker. But I was also sleeping better and had more energy.'

It truly does sound like a wonder drug, so why is it not readily available?

'In Britain, somatropin is a prescription-only medicine that is licensed only for use by adults and children who are deficient in the hormone hGH,' says Professor John Monson, from The London Clinic Centre for Endocrinology.

'Research has been carried out that shows that while there may be side effects, on balance, it's better for the patient to take it than not. That's not the case when you're giving it to healthy people.'

The professor lists a catalogue of potential side effects, from diabetes and fluid retention to joint pain and more serious diseases.

'Might giving a healthy person growth hormone increase their risk of cancer? Yes, possibly. But nobody knows because the research hasn't been done.'

Even if you were prepared to take those risks, Professor Monson isn't convinced you're going to see the benefits that you might hope for. So what does the professor say to people who believe the drug has helped them?

'For a start, you can't rule out the placebo effect or that they may be taking other drugs that are having an effect.

Brain strain
hGH was originally extracted from the brains of dead humans but, in 1985, it was produced synthetically

'But even if the drug is doing what they think it is, you don't know what risks you might be running in the long term. It's like someone saying they drink a bottle of champagne every day and feel brilliant. Well, they probably do, but that doesn't make it a good thing.'

Many others in the medical profession also believe somatropin abusers are running unnecessary risks with their health.

Stanford University carried out a review of all the research into hGH, concluding that using the growth hormone resulted in small changes in body composition and an increased likelihood of conditions such as diabetes.

They said: 'On the basis of this evidence, growth hormone cannot be recommended as an anti-ageing therapy.'

Unfortunately, that's unlikely to stop anyone who rails against the passage of time and is convinced that a drug can stop the clock.

Read more: Daily Mail UK

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Kisbel65 wrote Feb 4, 2010
    • I live in miami and there is a diet clinic here that is using human growth hormone to loose weight.I work in the pharmaceutical industry and know the risks, but I have been thinking about it.

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