Human growth hormone (HGH) is often mistaken for a steroid due to its anabolic properties.
Indeed, athletes and bodybuilders often use HGH as a performance-enhancing drug (PED) for increasing muscle growth, recovery, and performance.
Furthermore, the world anti-doping agency (WADA) has banned HGH in sports, alongside other PEDs such as anabolic steroids (AAS).
That’s because HGH as well as steroids can give an unfair advantage over the competition and abusing either is associated with health risks.
But despite the similarities, HGH is not an anabolic steroid.
In fact, HGH is an entirely different hormone in nature compared to steroids – it has a different structure, works in another way, and causes utterly different side effects when abused.
3 main reasons why HGH is not a steroid
HGH does not have a steroid structure
HGH is a single polypeptide chain made of 191 amino acids. Therefore, the growth hormone has a protein structure, and it is classified as a peptide that has nothing in common with steroids.
In comparison, steroid hormones have a typical molecular structure consisting of 4 rings made of 17 carbon atoms. This structure resembles the one of cholesterol, as all steroid hormones are produced from it.
Anabolic steroids have a structure similar to the steroid hormones testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Cortisol, aldosterone and other sex hormones are also steroids, although they lack the anabolic effects of androgens.
Only the pituitary gland secretes HGH
HGH is a hormone that is naturally produced in healthy individuals. It is secreted in a pulsatile manner by the pituitary gland, which means there are several daily peaks and declines in serum growth hormone levels.
The pituitary gland cannot produce steroid hormones. Instead, steroid hormones are produced by the adrenal glands, as well as the testes in men and the ovaries in women. Usually, the secretion of steroid hormones follows a daily or monthly pattern.
It’s important to note that anabolic steroids are not found naturally in the human body. Instead, they mimic naturally produced hormones such as testosterone or DHT but are often modified to improve their pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics.
HGH is a legally manufactured medication
HGH is a prescription medication legally available for patients with growth hormone deficiency (GHD).
There is only one type of HGH medication and the main difference between HGH products is the brand. In comparison, there are many different types of steroids, most of which are manufactured by small illegal labs and lack any quality or safety control.
All world-renowned brands of HGH contain the same active ingredient – growth hormone, which is produced by a unique DNA recombinant technology with the help of modified bacterial strains.
Thanks to this method, the medication can match the structure of the natural human growth hormone. All HGH brands are available only as subcutaneous injections due to their peptide structure.
On the other hand, anabolic steroid is a collective term for many different synthetic compounds. Few of them are currently available as a prescription medications to treat conditions associated with low testosterone (T).
However, many of the AAS that athletes and bodybuilders abuse were intended for use only in cattle. Others were initially approved for human use but later discontinued due to safety concerns.
Many anabolic steroids also have transdermal and oral activity thanks to their steroid structure. Most AAS are available as pills and injections.
Differences between HGH treatment and anabolic steroids
Apart from the fact that HGH and steroids are different in nature and structure, there are also significant differences in terms of effects, safety, cost, and medical applications.
1. Form of medication
Administration of HGH requires daily subcutaneous injections. This is the only reliable way to administer HGH because the peptide structure of the medication is not well absorbed through the skin, and it breaks down quickly in the stomach.
On the other hand, steroids can be administered as pills, injections, and gels alike.
HGH is legally available if you have a prescription and is used as a treatment for conditions such as GHD.
Yet, most steroids are not legally available as they are not manufactured for human use. Those which are legally available, such as testosterone esters, can be used to manage symptoms of low T, and obtaining them requires a medical prescription.
The cost of most AAS is significantly lower than the price of legal HGH injection, mainly because of the difference in the manufacturing process.
HGH medications are produced by pharmaceutical companies with strict quality control at every stage of the process, while most steroids are manufactured in illegal laboratories which lack any quality control.
4. Effects on the body
In terms of performance-enhancing effects, AAS can cause a significant increase in muscle mass, strength and fat loss, which is usually at the cost of using higher doses and experiencing severe side effects.
In comparison, HGH has weaker fat-burning and muscle-building effects. Instead, its purpose is to treat the symptoms of growth hormone deficiency, rather than cause specific changes in appearance, aesthetics and performance.
5. Side effects
The side effects of HGH and steroids are also quite different. Abusing HGH in large doses can lead to water retention, edemas, pain, insulin resistance, and even type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals.
On the other hand, anabolic steroids can have even more severe adverse reactions, such as testicular atrophy, infertility, gynecomastia, liver failure, and others. Liver failure and cardiovascular problems may even be fatal.
What is more, AAS abuse can lead to the development of a psychological addiction in about 30% of users.
Discontinuing steroid use abruptly can lead to symptoms of withdrawal in those individuals, so many continue taking steroids even after developing some of the side effects listed above. On the other hand, HGH medications do not pose a risk for addiction.
Can you take HGH with steroids?
If you have both GHD and low testosterone, then combining HGH therapy with legal testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is safe and even recommended.
That’s because the combination will help manage all your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and prevent many complications associated with the deficiencies of these hormones.
According to research, the combination can also potentiate the anabolic and fat-burning effects of each medication. Thus, you may expect a higher increase in muscle and strength gains, as well as fat loss effects when compared to using either medication alone.
However, if you are planning on abusing HGH and steroids to improve your physique and athletic performance, it’s important to note that any of the benefits you may experience will be put off by the combined side effects.
HGH does not reduce the side effects of AAS abuse, nor vice versa. Therefore, HGH is also not an effective AAS post-cycle therapy.
Furthermore, you will be risking legal issues as possessing anabolic steroids is against the law. You possess only FDA-approved medications for TRT as well as HGH, as long as you have a legal, medical prescription.