Thank Lance Armstrong for setting back society’s already backward view of human growth hormone (HGH) last year when he admitted – finally – to taking them and became the new poster boy for cheaters the world over. Cycling and other professional sports leagues and their antiquated bans aside, most people are missing the point when it comes to their thinking about taking HGH.

The question is not whether taking HGH makes you a cheater; but whether taking HGH provides scientific health benefits or not.  After all, for most of us are not pro peddlers, Major League Baseball swatters or pro football hulks.

Before you take that needle plunge, there are five things you absolutely need to know about HGH.

What are HGH’s potential benefits?

First things first: What is all the fuss about? Quite a lot actually. Best case scenario, HGH can help build muscle mass, strip fat, increase bone density and increase energy and capacity for exercise as you age. Oh yeah, just for kicks it can superfreak your libido. Everyone from the Mayo Clinic to the New England Journal of Medicine has published stories on HGH’s benefits and scientific research supports the claims. 

Why Shouldn’t You Take HGH?

With those potential benefits, you’d think HGH injections would outnumber flu shot in October. But there’s usually a flip side, and HGH is no different. Research is still thin on the negative side effects, but some of the worst hits are: fluid retention (swelling of arms and legs), joint and muscle pain,  breast enlargement (in men!) and just for good measure it has been correlated with increases in diabetes and heart disease.  

Where do you get a prescription for HGH? 

Only a doctor should prescribe HGH. Be it your family physician or one of the many new hormone clinics that have popped up in the last decade, the point is only a licensed physician is qualified to give you the goods. Although the Food and Drug Administration FDA has spelled out the conditions for when HGH can be prescribed, you’ll find that there can be “flexibility” in a diagnosis for the need.

But remember, steer clear of anyone besides a doc who is pedaling HGH, especially if they are claiming it can be taken in pill form as it is only scientifically shown to be effective through injection. 

Is HGH the same for both men and women?

Is anything? Usually not! Having said that, both men and women see benefits from HGH even if they produce different amounts.

Surprisingly, women produce more growth hormone, which might take some of the starch out of claims about the all-powerful strength-building properties of HGH – aren’t men the stronger sex? Even so, the metabolic clearance rates after HGH injections were found to be higher in men than women. We think it means it has shown to be more efficient in dudes!

What’s your real reason for taking HGH? Vanity or health?Your body produces growth hormone on its own, although it’s true that the production decreases sharply after your 20s, and even more so in your 30s and 40s and so on.  The decreases are natural and unless you have a growth hormone deficiency (GHD), there’s nothing wrong with it. The real question is do you need HGH for health reasons or aesthetic appeal? In the end, it may be a case of wanting to look good (more muscle mass and less fat) versus actually feeling better as many of the effects of HGH including building muscle mass have not been shown to actually increase strength.