The cryptic message from my biohacking, exercise-science-obsessed, name-shall-remain-anonymous friend read like this:
“Ben…here is the sleep/fat loss/muscle gain stack I am now using:
-Ipamorelin at 200mcg 1x/day
-Mod-GRF frag at 100mcg 2x/day
-IGF-1 at 50mcg post-workout…”
Unless you lurk on bodybuilding forums, you’re on the very pointy edge of anti-aging and biohacking, or you've read my previous articles on “peptide injections”, this message is likely Greek to you.
But ever since the 1970's, scientists have observed that although we produce substantial amounts of both IGF-1 and human growth hormone (HGH) in childhood, these hormones decrease drastically by the time we reach old age. They also noticed that IGF-1 could possibly be manipulated to extend life and to prolong the deteriorating effects of aging (you can read the research here).
In addition, scientists have observed that those who supplemented with IGF-1 experienced a preponderance of new brain cell growth and new muscle mass and new studies confirmed this to be true, even among individuals with both brain damage and muscle-wasting sarcopenia. Furthermore, research studies have found IGF-1 to increase feelings of youthfulness, improve well-being, and even to alleviate depression.
So thus we now find that, similar to stacking smart drugs, stacking muscle gain supplements and stacking fat loss aids, biohackers, anti-aging enthusiasts and a growing number of seemingly smart people are now stacking the very same type of growth hormones, IGF-1 precursors and other compounds mentioned in the “cryptic message” above.
And in this article, I'm going to fill you in on these controversial hormone injections these folks are now using, whether you should use these “fountain of youth” growth hormones and growth hormone precursors, and a trilogy of natural growth hormone building alternatives you can use should you choose not to take the risk.
What Is IGF-1?
IGF-1, or “insulin-like growth factor“, is a complex and controversial compound often hailed as a hormonal “fountain of youth”…
…but at the same time, IFG-1 has also been associated with compromised longevity and even certain cancers.
So what is IGF-1?
Technically, it is a “protein-peptide hormone” which means that it consists of 70 amino acids bonded together. Just like the peptides I've written about in the past, this means that it must be injected, because otherwise IGF-1 simply degrades in the gut, rendering it useless. Your own human growth hormone release promotes the synthesis of IGF-1 in your liver (and to smaller amounts, synthesis of IGF-1 by your muscles), your liver and muscles then synthesize IGF-1 and then, in the case of your liver, subsequently package the IGF-1 with binding proteins for transport into the blood. In a type of anabolic positive-feedback loop, IGF-1 then further increases growth hormone’s anabolic effects.
IGF-1 is so named because of its close resemblance to insulin. Because IGF-1 is so similar to insulin, it interacts with insulin receptors on the surface of your cells, produces some of the same effects as insulin and even magnifies the effect of insulin. For example, one primary effect of both excess insulin and excess IGF-1 is hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). When you workout for a long time (longer than about one hour) your liver increases its release of IGF-binding protein (IGFBP-3) to prevent the onset of hypoglycemia that would otherwise happen as a result of the increased release of IGF-1 that occurs during training.
But the primary role of IGF-1 is not to transport glucose into cells. Instead, IGF-1's primary role is to increase cellular division, cell growth and cell repair, particularly in the brain, heart and muscle…
…and it is because of this crucial role in cell division that many scientists have suggested that excessive IGF-1 may play a role in several types of cancer.
This IGF-1 cancer link kinda makes sense. Just think about it.
Cancer can often be a process of uncontrolled cellular division. IGF-1 is not only pro-growth in a way that could increase this cellular division, but IGF-1 also inhibits apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Hence the theory among some in the medical community that tumors could increase synthesis of IGF-1 to keep themselves alive and to encourage the spread of cancer throughout the body. This doesn't mean that IGF-1 directly causes cancer.
In other words, just because increased IGF-1 production can be caused by a tumor it doesn't necessarily mean the IGF-1 caused a tumor.
And IGF-1 is definitely not all bad news bears, especially if you’re fixing IGF-1 deficiencies without producing IGF-excesses.
For example, studies have shown that people deficient in IGF-1 have an increased chance of dying from a heart attack. This is because IGF-1 prevents the death of heart cells and offers protection to heart cells when the cells are stressed, such as during a heart attack or long amount of time without oxygen. IGF-1 has a similar protective effect on brain cells.
IGF-1 also increases the activity of muscle protein synthesis and the activity of muscle stem cells (also called satellite cells) for repair of damaged muscle. This is probably why intense weight training is one primary stimulus for a natural release of IGF-1 in muscle. As a matter of fact, exercise researchers have found that systemic IGF-1 normally produced in the liver isn’t even required for this type of muscle repair, as other IGF-1 forms produced by your own muscles during and post-exercise allows for adequate muscle tissue repair.
From the standpoint of protein synthesis and muscle repair, IGF-1 injections have also been shown to enhance the anticatabolic effects of insulin and to increase the protein synthesis normally induced by growth hormone. This is because, like insulin, IGF-1 encourages amino acid uptake into muscle cells, stimulates peripheral tissue uptake of glucose (which lowers blood glucose levels), and suppresses liver glucose production. That last fact is important and is actually why IGF-1 is even being considered as a diabetes-prevention drug. Insulin resistance can cause the liver to produce excess glucose, which then causes even more insulin insensitivity and can eventually result in type II diabetes, and IGF-1 can decrease the need for this type excessive insulin release.
In addition (and again, similar to insulin) IGF-1 can also increase glycogen synthesis, which allows for more carbohydrate-based energy storage for intense training bursts, such as sprinting or weight training.
Finally, patients deficient in growth hormone who get IGF-1 injections have shown increased rates of fat loss and fat oxidation. One theory for this is that, as you’ve just learned, IGF-1 can suppress circulating insulin, which would allow more burning of fatty acids from fat cells. This makes sense, since we do know that fat cells contain IGF-1 receptors, and this means that IGF-1 can interact with fat cells.
So we know that IGF-1 not only maintains both muscle and connective tissue, but also protects brain cells and heart cells, which is likely why it is often referred to as a potent “anti-aging” compound: a veritable fountain of youth.
We also know that IGF-1 enhances muscle gain, fat loss, and glycogen storage.
What's not to love?
Natural Ways To Increase IGF-1
Let's look at how to increase this stuff, shall we? Several factors affect IGF-1 production in your body.
For example, insufficient protein or calories can cause IGF-1 to plummet, while ample calories can cause IGF-1 to increase. For example, one study of women who fed with excess calories over and above their normal metabolic rate noted a 19% increase in IGF-1 after two weeks of overfeeding, with 46% of the weight gain from lean mass and 54% from bodyfat. Fasting insulin doubled in these women, and testosterone levels also significantly increased.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to stuff your face 24-7 to experience IGF or growth hormone surges. You can simply implement re-feed meals or re-feed days in which you eat to slight caloric excess. When combined with intermittent fasting and days on which you consume lower calories, you can achieve an IGF-1 “sweet spot”.
Micronutrient status also affects IGF-1 production. Nutrients necessary to maintain IGF-1 include the minerals magnesium and zinc and thiamine (vitamin B1), with zinc being particularly important. In other words, eat your shellfish and pumpkin seeds, and throw in a bit of sea salt too.
Your level of physical activity also affects IGF-1, and heavy weight training for your legs is a particularly potent way to increase it. Some studies suggest that the effects of the popular anti-aging supplement DHEA actually arise due to this same type of increase in IGF-1 in the body that occurs with with weight training (so you choose: heavy barbell squats or a bottle of DHEA from the drugstore).
And (as you'll discover later in this article) whey protein, colostrum and raw milk are other natural ways to increase IGF-1.
But let's say you've already implemented the IGF-1 boosting strategies of adequate calories, sufficient protein, weight training, plenty of sleep, smart supplementation, mineral intake and alcohol moderation. Should you take the next step, wander into an anti-aging clinic, find an online pharmacy, lurk in the depths of bodybuilding forums, and begin IGF-1 injections?
Let's find out if that's a smart idea, shall we?
Should You Get IGF-1 Injections?
It's not secret that bodybuilders, anti-aging enthusiasts and other professional athletes have been using IGF-1 injections for years, often along with growth hormone, anabolic steroids and insulin. In many cases, these compounds are “stacked” with other supplements that cause an even greater surge in growth hormone.
For example, there are Growth Hormone Releasing Peptides (GHRP’s with names such as ipamorelin and hexarein) which allow for a slow and steady growth hormone release that produces a pulse which mimics natural growth hormone release times and Growth Hormone Releasing Hormones (GHRH’s such as Mod-GRF) for an even stronger natural release of growth hormone and greater presence of growth hormone precursors known as GH “frags” or fragments.
Ironically, it only appears that the version of IGF-1 produced in your own muscle has any true anabolic effects. But nonetheless, many folks who’ve used IGF-1 claim to have experienced significant anabolic effects of injections. However, the only evidence for such anabolic effects have been shown in people who are already clinically deficient in IGF-1.
The prescription form of IGF-1 most often injected is “mecasermin”, which goes by the trade name Increlex. Manufactured using recombinant DNA technology, mecasermin is clinically used to treat IGF-1 deficiency and stunted growth. It is also prescribed to patients who have developed antibody resistance to normal growth hormone therapy. Increlex is actually identical to natural IGF-1, meaning that it has the identical 70 amino acid sequence of IGF-1 that the body produces. In other words, it’s not some kind of growth hormone “precursor”. It’s just straight up IGF-1.
The known side effects of IGF-1 injections include jaw pain, facial and hand swelling and heart-rhythm disturbances, especially if doses of more than 100 micrograms (mcg) are injected. Exceeding 100mcg of IGF-1 can actually cause your heart to stop beating and blood pressure to drop dramatically. This is caused by an IGF-1-induced drop in blood phosphate levels, and in the bodybuilding community is often prevented by administering phosphate with the IGF-1.
Then there's the bloating. An increase in IGF-1 caused by either growth hormone or IGF-1 injections is thought to play a major role in producing the “bloated abs” effect often seen on competitive bodybuilders. Adding insulin to an injection scenario significantly increases the chance of the bloating side effect showing up.
Why the bloat? All your organs have an extensive supply of both insulin and IGF-1 cell receptors, and providing an abundance of either or both of these hormones can lead to actual organ growth and organ hypertrophy, which contributes to the abdominal bloat (and which, I suspect, may not be an altogether healthy scenario).
But IGF-1 injections may soon be a thing of the past. Future use of IGF-1 will no doubt involve gene therapy, which directly targets genes that produce IGF-1 in muscle, usually by attaching specific gene activators to an inactive virus or vector that then enters into muscle cells. Studies in mice show that a procedure like this can cause a 15% increase in muscle mass, along with a 14% increase in strength. Gene therapy in old mice has been shown to cause to a 27% increase in strength, along with regeneration of aging muscle. In one mouse study, the IGF-1 gene was placed in the animals’ glutes and calves, which resulted in up to a 115% increase in muscle-cross-sectional area.
But gene-therapy experiments have also resulted in patient deaths. The use of such therapies can cause the human body to experience fatal immune reactions to the vectors used to place the gene in the body. Another danger of gene therapy is an inability to control the expression of the gene, which could translate into a rapidly spreading cancer. Or the expression of the gene could spread from skeletal muscle into heart muscle, resulting in excessive heart muscle growth (known as left ventricular hypertrophy, or “athlete’s heart) that can cause premature heart failure.
Injections of other compounds along with IGF-1 (which is a popular practice) can also cause serious health issues. The idea is that after an user administers a GHRP (like Ipamorelin) along with IGF-1, a selective pulse is then sent that stimulates the hypothalamus and pituitary to release even more growth hormone. But this may result in an eventual negative feedback loop that leaves you unable to produce your own growth hormone and stuck on injections forever. GHRP and synthetic HGH use has also been shown to cause joint pain, huge spikes in cortisol, excessive hunger, and splitting headaches.
And then there’s the confusing question of whether IGF-1 actually shortens life or lengthens life…let’s take a look at that, shall we?
Does IGF-1 Really Make You Live Longer?
Before scientists examined the intricacies of IGF-1 and its functions within the body, a researcher discovered that a little mouse, called the Ames Dwarf Mouse, completely lacked the gene for HGH and the ability to process IGF-1, yet lived 50% longer than other mice. You can see the study here.
Further studies confirmed that just about any mouse deprived of IGF-1 lived longer.
The initial mice studies were enough to dash the scientific community's hopes for IGF-1. And, at this point, scientists stopped purporting IGF-1 to prolong life and instead purported it to shorten life.
Despite the controversies, some scientists continued with additional studies and again proved IGF-1 to actually prolong life…at least in worms. Then, in 2001, scientists discovered that the use of IGF-1 resulted in a proliferation of cancer cells, especially throughout the breast and colon, and a 2012 study found that both too much or too little IGF-1 could contribute to dying from cancer; implying that IGF-1 actually helped patients with terminal cancer live longer.
To make matters even more complex, a population of dwarfs from Israel and Equador, called the “Laron dwarfs”, who suffer stunted growth due to a deficiency of IGF-1, exhibit strikingly low rates of cancer. Scientists studying these people found that their negligible cancer risk, due to their deficiency of IGF-1, has also enhanced their longevity.
In these dwarfs, the reduced IGF-1 production is caused by a faulty HGH receptor which prevents HGH from binding to its receptor and signaling the liver to produce IGF-1. As a result, these individuals display dwarfism, but seem to be healthier and more resistant to certain diseases than other populations with normal IGF-1 signaling.
Currently, scientists are learning exactly how IGF-1 is synthesized in the liver and how, perhaps, we can use IGF-1 to prolong life. In fact, a new study revealed that IGF-1 completely reversed cirrhosis of the liver – albeit in a rodent model.
So, you might be asking…
…I don’t get it, Ben – does IGF-1 make you live longer, or strip significant years off your life?
Here’s my take: I personally suspect based on the research-to-date that exogenous IGF-1 injections or growth hormone stacks in people who aren’t already clinically deficient in growth hormone is likely going to cause much more harm than benefit, including a potential accelerated-aging and pro-carcinogenic effect.
Then you combine all these potential risks and conflicting research with the fact that IGF-1, GH, DHEA or any other such stack is completely banned by WADA and USADA. This means that if you’re, say, an Ironman triathlete or Spartan racer, you can’t legally use the stuff anyways.
So are there natural ways to increase IGF-1 without actually using exogenous IGF-1? You bet. Let’s take a look at three that I personally use.
Are There Ways To Naturally Increase IGF-1 Without Using Exogenous IGF-1?
So can you avoid syringes, lots of money for fringe chemical compounds and a potentially shortened lifespan…and still have adequate levels of IGF-1?
One combination of natural supplements that boost IGF-1 with no injections required would simply be a one-two combo of whey protein and colostrum. Throw small bits of natural dairy into the mix and you’ve got a pretty potent trilogy for not just increasing IGF-1, but also all the fat loss, lean muscle gain, and cellular repair mechanisms that accompany a surge in growth hormone.
You’ve already learned that sufficient protein intake (above 0.5g/lb of body weight) can assist with adequate IGF-1 and growth hormone production. Whey protein provides your body with a complete profile of necessary amino acids, including leucine. Leucine is an amino acid that promotes greater muscle protein synthesis and assists the body while gaining lean muscle mass and losing fat tissue simultaneously.
In fact, a 2013 study confirmed that whey protein was more effective than soy protein or isocaloric carbohydrate control as a treatment to promoting lean body mass gains. And a 2014 study examining the thermogenic and fat burning qualities of whey protein showed whey protein increased fat loss among study participants.
Then there’s colostrum. Colostrum is packed with growth factors, including IGF-1, that amplify lean muscle gains and increase the body's ability to burn fat. In many studies, colostrum has been shown to restore IGF-1 and stimulate IGF-1 production. Colostrum is also a natural immunity drug, containing antibodies and antigens that knock out disease-causing agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
The consumption of all dairy products have been shown to naturally raise IGF-1 levels , but I personally go straight to the source and both drink camel milk and other forms of raw milk (in moderation) and use bovine colostrum. In scientific studies, colostrum supplements have proven to increase the amount of IGF-1 and IgA in the bloodstream (IgA is an important immunoglobulin that helps to ensure our immunity to pathogens, especially in the mucous membranes).
IGF-1 is the only natural hormone that can stimulate lean muscle mass gains and help the body choose to burn stored fat over simple glucose for fuel, meaning, you will burn off more fat. Studies demonstrate that only colostrum supplements containing lactoferrin can produce lean muscle gains that complement IGF-1 supplementation. That’s because it is actually the lactoferrin in some brands of colostrum that work to increase muscle mass and to burn adipose tissue. In fact, in a recent 2013 study, participants who supplemented with lactoferrin over a period of eight weeks experienced increased weight loss, reduced visceral and subcutaneous fat, reduced waist circumference, and reduced hip circumference.
Summary (& My “Trilogy” For Natural IGF-1 Production)
So, let’s cut straight to the chase.
I don’t recommend growth hormone stacks like IGF-1, GHRH’s, GHRP’s or any of the like. As you’ve just discovered, the risks and unknowns are just too great.
But for maintenance of adequate and natural IGF-1 and growth hormone, and to achieve that sweet spot of not becoming to pro-growth while also not becoming a weak, muscle-less noodle, that sweet spot of producing adequate insulin without producing too much, and that sweet spot of increasing cellular repair without letting cellular division get “out of control”, I have indeed been implementing three specific strategies: my IGF-1 “trilogy”.
In no particular order of importance, here they are: I swallow colostrum capsules every morning, I drink raw animal milk such as camel milk and goat milk in moderation, and I use the equivalent of around 30 grams of grass-fed whey protein each day in a smoothie (if you’re vegan or if whey protein doesn’t agree with your stomach, you can combine digestive enzymes with a vegan protein such as brown rice protein, pea protein or hemp protein for an effect similar to whey protein).
Here is exactly what I personally use:
–Colostrum (2-4 scoops per day)
–Grass-Fed Whey Protein (20-30g per day)
–Camel Milk (use code BEN20 for 20% off or other raw milk such as goat’s milk (4-8 ounces per day)
When combined with the other IGF-1 and growth hormone boosting strategies you’ve just discovered – such as eating adequate calories, heavy weight training, 7-9 hours of sleep per 24 hour cycle, adequate mineral intake and moderation of alcohol intake – these additional strategies will ensure you get all the anabolic effects of IGF-1 and growth hormone without having to resort to needles, syringes, prescriptions, online pharmacies and potentially dangerous self-experimentation.
So that’s it! What about you? Do you use IGF-1 or growth hormone injections? Would you? Do you have other questions about how to naturally increase IGF-1 or growth hormone, including the use of protein, colostrum, and dairy? Leave your questions below and I’ll reply!