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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1999 Jul;51(1):53-60.

Effects of growth hormone replacement on physical performance and body composition in GH deficient adults.

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Department of Endocrinology, St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, UK.



Adults with GH deficiency complain frequently of low energy levels resulting in a low perceived quality of life. Body composition is altered, with increased fat mass and decreased lean body mass, and muscle strength is reduced. The aims of this study were to determine the effects of GH replacement on physical performance and body composition in GH deficient (GHD) adults.


The study consisted of a 6-month randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study of the administration of GH (0.25 IU/Kg/week (0.125 IU/kg/week for the first four weeks)) followed by a 6-month open phase of GH therapy.


Thirty-five GHD adults (17F), mean age 39.8 years (range 21.1-59.9), on conventional replacement therapy as required.


Maximum aerobic capacity was measured using an incremental walking test to volitional exhaustion on a motorized treadmill. Quadriceps muscle strength was assessed by measuring maximum voluntary contractions and body composition by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).


There were no statistically significant changes in quadriceps muscle strength between the GH and placebo groups. In both groups, there was a significant increase in quadriceps muscle strength compared to baseline during the double-blind period (GH group: P = 0.016; placebo group: P = 0.048). Compared to baseline, muscle strength was further improved in the GH treatment group after 12 months of treatment (P = 0.007). No further improvement was noted in the placebo group after 6 months on open GH treatment. In the placebo group, maximum aerobic capacity decreased during the placebo period (P = 0.017). No significant change was observed in the GH group. During open GH treatment the previously placebo treated group had a significant increase of maximum aerobic capacity (P < 0.049) whereas no significant improvement could be seen in the GH group. In the GH group there was a significant increase in lean body mass (P = 0.001) and a significant decrease in fat mass (P < 0.001). No statistically significant changes were noted in the placebo group: the differences in these changes between treatment groups were statistically significant (lean body mass: P = 0.009; fat mass: P < 0.001). The changes in body composition in the GH group during the 6 month placebo-controlled period were maintained during continued open treatment. Similar changes in body composition to those observed in the GH group during the 6 month placebo-controlled period were also seen in the placebo group once the patients received GH treatment.


Our data show that GH replacement in GH deficient adults is associated with favourable changes in body composition, which could be important in the long term health outcome and physical activity of GH deficient patients. Our data support the concept that GH therapy alone, in the absence of some form of exercise programme, may increase the amount of lean tissue but not the quality or functional capacity of this tissue and it may be that training, in addition to GH therapy, may be necessary to significantly increase physical performance in these patients. We suggest that future trials with GH therapy and general approaches to the treatment of GH deficiency should include a planned activity programme as an approach to health improvement in these patients.

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