Human growth hormone (HGH) has been receiving a lot of media attention recently because of the controversy of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.  This made some researchers curious about how much evidence existed that HGH actually improves athletic performance.  They reviewed the scientific studies on HGH in an analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  The study received a lot of coverage in the lay press, including this Wall Street Journal article.

The authors conclude that the scientific literature does not support that HGH improves physical performance, and that it may actually have some side effects like fatigue.

Earlier this week (before I had heard of this new study) a patient of mine who is a voracious reader asked me about HGH, and when I expressed skepticism about it, asked “Then why is everyone taking it?” That’s a great question.  I’m not certain of the answer though I suspect it has to do with desperation to try anything that may help, and the (mistaken) belief that so many people can’t be doing something without benefit.  In other words, everyone is taking it because each one of them is impressed that everyone else is taking it.

The broader point is that people will do lots of things because of fads, rumor, marketing and a myriad other reasons.  This might be a terrific way to pick a brand of jeans, but I wouldn’t trust my health to what “everybody else” is doing.  I would want to see a good study in the scientific literature.  Smoking was unhealthy in the fifties even when “everybody” was doing it, and cardiovascular exercise would still be good for us even if it became uncool.

Or, as your mother used to say, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

Tangential Miscellany:

My wife Janet and I wish all of you who are celebrating a happy Easter and a happy Purim.