Human growth hormone (GH), as you might suspect, is necessary for childhood and adolescent growth. Youthful levels of GH promote a healthy metabolism and an optimal ratio of lean muscle tissue to body fat.
Among adults, GH deficiency is associated with excess body fat, and a decrease in extra cellular water volume1. Those with GH deficiency may also have a lower bone mineral content, lipid abnormalities, decreased insulin sensitivity, and decreased fibrinolysis1. The process by which a fibrous protein (fibrin) involved in the clotting of blood is broken down is known as fibrinolysis.
Lipid refers to a fatty substance in the blood. A lipid disorder increases your risk for atherosclerosis, and thus your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure (or hypertension), and other health problems.
Reasons for growth hormone deficiency
Several studies have shown that the amplitude of GH pulses (GH is released from the pituitary gland in a pulsatile manner2) is reduced for both men and women as we age3.
For men, GH secretion declines 50% every 7 years beyond 18-25 years of age2. This aging effect on the 24-hour mean serum GH is twice as great for men as it is for pre-menopausal women, so estrogens may limit the decline in GH2.
Obese individuals, however, show profound suppression of GH secretion at any age2. Poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, and lack of physical fitness can also contribute to a decline in circulating GH that is independent of age4.
Risks of growth hormone therapy
GH replacement injections can cost up to $10,000 a year. Unfortunately, such GH treatments have been linked to increased risk for developing soft tissue edema, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and gynecomastia (abnormally large mammary glands in males)5.
Safer, less expensive alternatives
There are healthier and less costly ways to increase your GH levels. These include weight management, exercise, healthy sleep habits, reduction of high-glycemic-load carbohydrates, and specific nutrients.
The Paleo Diet can be very helpful for increasing GH levels. This way of eating maintains the correct balance of calories from carbohydrate, protein, and fat to improve blood-lipid profiles, and lipid abnormalities are associated with GH deficiency. This balance also reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure because a lipid disorder increases your risk for atherosclerosis.
Emulating the amount of daily energy that our hunter-gatherer ancestors obtained from carbohydrate, protein, and fat also helps you to feel fuller, and burn more calories. This is key to managing your weight, and obesity can suppress GH secretion at any age.
Other aspects of the Paleo Diet also help with weight management. The diet supplies nutrient-dense foods, while avoiding refined grain, sugar, and vegetable oil. Although these offer few vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals, they contribute more than 36 percent of the energy in the average American diet.
The Paleo Diet also offers another key strategy to help maintain optimum weight and increase GH levels. It reduces high-glycemic-load carbohydrates that contribute to obesity and suppress GH secretion.
While GH deficiency is associated with below normal bone mineral content, the Paleo Diet helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. By maintaining an optimum sodium-potassium ratio, the diet not only reduces the risk of osteoporosis, but that of hypertension, stroke, kidney stones, gastrointestinal-tract cancers, and asthma as well.
Specific nutrients shown to increase GH levels
Even a relatively small amount (2,000 mg) of the amino acid glutamine has been shown to boost plasma GH levels6. Glutamine occurs naturally in many Paleo Diet foods, including meat (3 ounces of meat contain 3 to 4 grams of glutamine), fish, and eggs. Glutamine is also highly concentrated in raw cabbage and beets. Be aware that cooking can destroy glutamine, particularly in vegetables.
Another amino acid, arginine, can increase the release of GH when the body is at rest. Combining arginine intake with exercise boosts GH levels even more7.
High in protein, the Paleo Diet supplies many protein-rich foods that contain arginine. This includes eggs, meat8-10 (grass-fed beef, chicken, lean pork, turkey, and wild meat), nuts, (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, coconuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pinenuts, pistachio nuts, and walnuts), seafood (salmon, shrimp, and tuna), and seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds). Raw garlic, onion and watermelon also contain arginine.
The Paleo Diet can help you get the nutrients that increase GH levels without the inherent risks or expense of GH therapy.
- Maintain the right balance of calories from carbohydrate, protein, and fat. This helps improve lipid profiles, stops obesity-related lowering of GH levels, and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
- Eliminate high-glycemic-load carbohydrates, cereal grains, sugar, and vegetable oil. This helps optimize your weight, which improves GH secretion.
- Maintain an optimum sodium-potassium ratio. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis (from GH deficiency-related lower bone mineral content), hypertension, stroke, kidney stones, gastrointestinal-tract cancers, and asthma.
- Increase consumption of foods with glutamine and arginine. Beets, cabbage, eggs, fish, garlic, lean meats, nuts, onions, seafood, seeds, and watermelon contain these amino acids that help GH levels.