The idea of the Fountain of Youth has been around for thousands of years, with writings on the subject going as far back as the 5th century or so. Throughout history, explorers have gone in search of it and some have even died trying. You, however, don’t have to. Instead, you can tap into one of the best anti-aging ‘fountains’ out there that doesn’t require any travel at all. Best of all, it’s actually inside you – HGH, or Human Growth Hormone. Here’s a quick look and this powerful anti-ager and how to put it to work for a more youthful you:
Anti-aging from the inside.
Secreted by the pituitary gland, HGH (also referred to simply as GH) is pumped throughout the body abundantly throughout childhood and adolescence, helping to spur muscle growth and cellular repair. It also plays an essential role in bone, cartilage, and organ growth, and helps regulate important aspects of metabolism including insulin and blood sugar levels. Stepping back from the biochemistry, it’s a key ally in aiding athletic performance and recovery.
But as you enter the 30-something zone, HGH production slowly starts to taper off. As levels slide, risk for disease increases as does the speed with which aging really starts to take off. HGH helps increase the synthesis of proteins, our body’s essential building blocks, so these lower hormone levels make themselves known inside and out with all-too-familiar aging signs like increased body fat and wrinkles, and decreased muscle mass, energy and immunity.
To combat the downturn and capitalize on the powerful anti-aging effects of HGH, some people will even go so far as to take injections of it! While I have significant concerns about the safety and wisdom of artificially supplementing HGH – and strenuously do not recommend injections – I am completely in favor of promoting your body’s natural production. Why pay for an expensive jab and risk dangerous side effects when you can power up the youth fountain naturally, simply by cultivating a few healthy habits?
Harmonize your hormones – including your HGH.
There’s a reason why we in the integrative health world are always banging the ‘heathy habit’ drum. In short, it’s because at every moment of the day, every cell in your body works in concert – interacting, exchanging information and, generally, getting stuff done. Their mission? To keep you healthy and well for as long as possible. So, not surprisingly, the more healthy habits you’ve got, the better that plan is going to work out.
While every cell and system has its role to play, you really want to pay attention to your hormones if you want slow down the aging clock. But first, it helps to understand how a few of the key hormonal players – insulin, cortisol and HGH – interact on the daily:
1. Cortisol: Early in the morning, your levels begin to rise, helping you to wake you up and letting your liver know it’s time to fuel up your muscles by releasing more glucose into the bloodstream. Your adrenals release another shot of cortisol as you roll out of bed, keeping your energy up until those levels tail off in the afternoon and evening. When life stressors kick in, so does more cortisol. If the stressor is a momentary challenge, that extra cortisol will help you rise to the challenge.
However, cortisol has a considerably less appealing side when it comes to unrelieved stress. Chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high (think, constant drip), aided and abetted by fight-or-flight adrenal hormones like epinephrine (or, adrenaline as it’s sometimes still known). The result? You’re left feeling low, exhausted and wrung-out. Making matters worse, that stress-triggered cortisol sends even more glucose into the bloodstream, which, if not quickly burned off with exercise, winds up getting stored as fat. (Any wonder why chronic stress and fat gain go hand-in-hand?)
2. Insulin: In the morning, when cortisol pushes glucose into the bloodstream, your pancreas gets into gear. It secretes the hormone insulin which guides the glucose into your cells, especially your muscle cells, burned for energy to keep you moving through the day. All good, that is, unless you’re over-doing it with fast-acting carb bombs – like pasta, bread bagels and beyond — which drown your bloodstream in sugar and puts your pancreas in overdrive, as it tries to clear the sugar out of the bloodstream and into your cells. Over the long haul, a diet heavy in carbs will eventually turn on just about everyone (yes, even you) and push you into insulin resistance and, all too often, type 2 diabetes – a must to avoid.
3. HGH (Human Growth Hormone): Here’s where HGH fits into the hormonal balancing act. Cortisol and insulin have a yin-yang relationship with “androgen” hormones like HGH, DHEA and, especially in men, testosterone. Those hormones do their valuable thing when you’re asleep, maintaining or building muscle and encouraging fat breakdown — move your body during the day and build it up at night! That is, unless high stress and high carbs have pushed up your nighttime cortisol and insulin levels, tamping down HGH and the other build-you-up hormones. The result? You get sluggish and flabby, in other words, you’ve speeded up the aging process. Consider, that as we head into our 30s, HGH starts to decline at about 1% with each passing birthday and, typically, cortisol and insulin levels start to spike higher, more often and for longer – making early middle age a highly advisable time to get very serious about cutting carbs and getting moving. (The sooner the better!)
Banish the bad (habit) apples.
If you want to keep HGH pumping, banish the bad apples, as in the crappy lifestyle habits that take a big bite out of your body’s natural production (not to mention screwing up your cortisol and insulin levels). Among the lifestyle baddies to jettison:
1. Poor sleep – which messes with the timing and release of the hormones you need to keep you on a healthy, balanced hormonal track. Here are 9 sleep-well-tonight tips.
2. Unrelieved stress – again, it ramps up cortisol and insulin, which has a negative impact on HGH levels, suppressing those very necessary, sleepy-time secretions. Here’s how to bust stress fast.
3. Excess body fat – which is, unfortunately, closely correlated with lower levels of HGH. Lose the fat and your HGH can return to healthy levels.
4. Sugar – the stuff is a killer, and a wicked insulin-booster. You have to lose it, no excuses. Here’s how to ditch the sweet stuff.
5. Alcohol – it’s just sugar in liquid form. The occasional glass with dinner is one thing, but ditch the half a bottle a night habit which will have you aging much quicker than your tea-totaling buddies.
Cultivate the good apples.
To turn up the volume on your HGH production, and keep the dreaded signs of aging away from your door for as long as possible, I recommend adding a few of these body-loving behaviors to your heathy habit mix:
1. Time Restricted Eating (TRE) or Intermittent Fasting (IF) – They might just be the express train to increased HGH, with a number of studies showing that eating within a limited number hours during the day can have a major impact, even raising levels in one study by an astonishing 1250%. Another reason to try TRE/IF? Both are great for keeping insulin and cortisol levels on an even keel, which helps combat the baddies of poor sleep, excess stress and body fat. Start here to more about TRE and IF.
2. Move it – ideally, multiple times a day – With all those gyms to fill and cycling studios to spin in, the fitness industry has fostered an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to moving the body. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a regular fitness routine – I encourage everyone to get into a consistent movement groove. But you still must move throughout the day, ideally as much and as often as possible, particularly if your work is sedentary. Maximizing moments of daily movement, be it a quick walk to the corner and back on your lunch break; a sprint or two up and down the stairs in your house; or a few planks between Zoom calls – it all counts, and will help nudge HGH levels up. Here’s how to work more exercise in to your day.
3. Go hard and fast – To make your HGH really sing, add HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, as well as strength training. That will directly stimulate HGH production. (Count us in!) Here’s how to get started on a HIIT routine.
4. Eat healthy, whole foods – They’ll help balance all your hormones, keep insulin and body fat under control – and will never steer you wrong! Among the foods commonly associated with increased levels of HGH are items like: preferably organic, or farmer’s market beef, chicken and eggs from healthy animals; spinach; full-fat, unsweetened yoghurt; nuts and seeds. Dig in!