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May 23, 2001

Weight Loss Requires Diet, Exercise and . . . Growth Hormone?
Researchers investigate growth hormone as a contributor in the fight against obesity

ST. LOUIS - Losing weight and keeping the weight off is a struggle for millions of Americans. More than 50 percent of Americans are overweight and nearly one in five is obese. A new study at Saint Louis University School of Medicine hopes to determine if growth hormone, given as a supplement to diet and exercise, can help obese people lose and keep weight off while maintaining their energy level to engage in regular physical activity.

Why would growth hormone help people who are beginning a diet and exercise program? "Growth hormone is involved in appetite control and in regulating the body's metabolism," said Stewart G. Albert, M.D., professor of internal medicine, division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "It helps maintain muscle mass, helps fat cells burn fat and speeds up metabolism to burn calories in general."

In recent years, synthetic human growth hormone has become available as a medication for both children and adults who lack this hormone. Does growth hormone actually make people "grow?" "When given to children, they are given larger doses of growth hormone, and they do grow," Dr. Albert said. "The doses being administered in this study for adults will be much smaller and will just affect their metabolism."

In people who are overweight, the level of growth hormone falls. When people diet and lose weight, they also lose muscle mass. This loss of muscle slows down metabolism, making continued weight loss more difficult to achieve. Many people on a diet also slow down their overall activity and burn even fewer calories.

"It's a Catch-22 situation," said Dr. Albert. "People that are overweight don't have enough growth hormone, and their low levels of growth hormone slow down metabolism. While they are on a diet, they may feel tired and not have the energy to exercise."

Study participants will take either the growth hormone or a placebo by injection once a night for 24 weeks. They will get extensive training on how to administer the injections, which they will give themselves before going to bed every night.

About 50 volunteers will be needed for this study. The requirements for inclusion in the study are:

  • 20-45 years of age, with no other chronic illness

  • a Body Mass Index (ratio of height to weight) of at least 30, if healthy, or of 27, if have co-morbidities, such as hypertension or high cholesterol

  • weigh no more than 300 pounds maximum.

    Dr. Albert emphasizes that the growth hormone will not make people lose weight by itself. "The diet and exercise portion of this study is very important," said Dr. Albert. "Eating right and engaging in physical activity is still the best way to lose weight. We want to see if growth hormone can help people with obesity continue on the path to reaching their goal weight." The participants need to have a two-pound weight loss before beginning the growth hormone injections, to demonstrate that they are committed to sticking with their diet and exercise program.

    Participants will come to the Obesity Clinic at Saint Louis University Hospital every four weeks for consultation with a registered dietitian regarding their individualized program. They will be advised to lose weight at a moderate pace, reducing caloric intake by about 500 calories a day. Keeping food records, setting goals and performing exercises appropriate for their weight are all essential parts of the program. They will also undergo various tests, such as body fat analysis and bone density testing. This is at no cost to the participants, who will be reimbursed for time and travel.

    "We're not just measuring weight loss-but also the percentage of muscle and fat that they lose, the levels of hormones in the blood, muscle strength and the rate of metabolism at the start of the program, throughout and after the program to see if any benefits are sustained," Dr. Albert said.

    "Losing weight in a healthy way and maintaining the weight loss is everybody's goal," said Dr. Albert. "We hope that the results of this study will help people accomplish that."

    To volunteer for the study, call (314) 977-7542.

    Editor's Note: To arrange an interview with Dr. Albert, or a nurse or registered dietitian involved in the study, please contact Jennifer Frakes, health sciences center media relations, at (314) 977-8018.

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