Growth and Longevity: The Enigma and Potential of IGF-1

How to naturally leverage the benefits of your body’s growth hormones without risking your longevity.

We all want to optimize our performance without the trade-off of compromising our longevity. It isn’t just a thing for bodybuilders anymore—almost every one of us is on a quest to enjoy the best of both worlds.

We all want to optimize our performance without the trade-off of compromising our longevity. It isn’t just a thing for bodybuilders anymore—almost every one of us is on a quest to enjoy the best of both worlds.

IGF-1, which is short for insulin-like growth factor 1, tremendously accelerates your performance. On the other hand, IGF-1 and longevity are kind of incompatible. So how to balance things? In this article, we’ll explore effective tactics that not only work to maintain higher levels of performance, but also help to minimize the risk of decreased longevity. So let’s get started!

IGF-1 and Its Association with Growth Hormone (GH)

IGF-1 is a hormone that is naturally produced by our liver in response to stimulation by the so-called super hormone, human growth hormone (HGH), which is released by the pea-sized pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. So if GH levels go up, so do IGF-1 levels and vice versa.

As their names suggest, both stimulate growth. Medical professionals call this an “anabolic effect.” The word “anabolic” derives from anabolism: a reaction that synthesizes molecules. This is in contrast to catabolism, which breaks them down. The secret behind all of the anabolic effects of GH is IGF-1. So, if I’m calling GH a super hormone, shouldn’t I be calling IGF-1 the super extraordinary hormone?

Jokes aside, both IGF-1 and HGH cause various body tissues to grow bigger, muscle being the most important one. IGF-1 increases lean body mass,1 helping you burn fat, and builds up physical endurance. It increases protein synthesis, which in turn prompts tissue repair and accelerates recovery from injuries.2 It is even said to control our brain via its neurotrophic (growth of new brain cells) and neuroprotective (protects the existing brain cells) mechanisms. Thus, it fosters mental and cognitive performance as well.3

IGF-1 (and GH) levels fluctuate with age. There is an upsurge in IGF-1 levels during childhood with a peak at puberty, but a gradual decrease in the later years of life. The antioxidant potential of the body also declines with age, which means that aging comes with a substantial waning in strength, weakening of the antioxidant and immune systems, and, alas, cripples your performance.

HGH doping has been a preferred choice of athletes to improve muscle strength, athletic performance and endurance. It has subsequently been banned in nearly every sport. Various supplements containing IGF-1 are also marketed to consumers. Ray Lewis sparked controversy in 2013 after he was spotted practicing IGF-1 doping via deer antler spray. However, deer antler has questionable efficiency in increasing IGF-14 despite its long use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The growth hormone system.

The Pitfalls of Persistently Elevated IGF-1 Levels

Despite the multiple advantages related to IGF-1, maintaining constant high IGF-1 levels is not ideal for your well-being. Instead, growth patterns should be periodic and cycled with periods of rest. Bodybuilders follow this protocol in terms of bulking and cutting phases. For instance, an IGF-1 boosting diet and supplement plan (the bulking phase) cycled with a ketogenic protocol (the cutting phase) would be highly effective for growth, and preserve lean body mass. The famous all-natural bodybuilding legend Vince Gironda (who trained Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others) suggested plans similar to this many decades ago.

An eating pattern of this type accurately reflects how animals survive in the wild and how prehistoric humans lived. Our ancient ancestors endured periods of scarce food availability and then, occasionally, big game was caught and supplied an excess of nutrients for the week ahead. The capacity to store food for long periods of time was also non-existent, which resulted in periods of excess calories similar to what we today call bulking.

But the accelerated growth associated with high GH and IGF-1levels paves the way for cancerous cells to grow and multiply. We need to monitor the fluctuations in IGF-1 levels from modern dietary patterns. Persistently high IGF-1 levels can serve as a smoking gun behind a wide range of cancers.5 Its role in cancer development, progression, and spread has been studied in a vast number of cases.

Normally, when IGF-1 levels reach a certain threshold, a negative feedback loop develops.6 This blocks the GH release from the pituitary, thereby keeping the IGF-1 levels in check. However, when your body constantly receives superfluous IGF-1, this feedback effect is no longer effective. The outcome is increased growth and proliferation of abnormal cells.

Researchers at the University of California reported the development of colon cancer in a man receiving anti-aging HGH therapy.7 They further elucidated that this effect is chiefly mediated through IGF-1, which, when in excess, carries the potential to inhibit the programmed cell death of abnormal cells (apoptosis). The patient in question had Crohn’s Colitis, which already put him at higher risk for colon cancer. So the real question, however difficult to study, is whether high IGF-1 levels directly cause cancer, or if they simply fuel already existing growths that stem from another cause.

Low IGF-1 Levels and Laron Syndrome

Here’s a quick run-through on Laron Syndrome. It is an incredibly rare genetic disorder characterized by a faulty GH receptor which prevents GH from binding to its receptor and signaling the liver to produce IGF-1. As a result, these individuals display dwarfism and other distinctive features and have typically low-IGF-1 levels. Laron syndrome is an incredibly rare genetic disorder characterized by a faulty GH receptor. This condition prevents GH from binding to its receptor and signaling the liver to produce IGF-1. As a result, individuals with Laron syndrome display dwarfism and other distinctive features, and typically have low-IGF-1 levels.

Yet just as every cloud has a silver lining, these same individuals exhibit strikingly low rates of cancer.8 This is an effect of the low IGF-1 levels characteristic of this syndrome. Since cancer is one of the most common causes of early-age death, the negligible cancer risk in these dwarf-like people means they tend to have enhanced longevity.

This stands in contrast to populations like NFL players, who have higher circulating levels of IGF-1, but a reduced lifespan. The higher IGF-1 levels are attributed to their active lifestyle (exercise boosts GH and IGF-1), although some do practice illicit hormonal doping.

How to Optimize IGF-1 Levels and Longevity Simultaneously

There are ways in which you can optimize IGF-1 levels (even when you’re old and run down) to amplify your physical and cognitive performance, while at the same time shielding yourself from the detrimental effects of excessive cellular growth during cell division. How is it possible? Simply by incorporating a blend of phenomenal nutritional therapies and supplements, some of which boost IGF-1 and longevity simultaneously.

Let’s get into the details that are backed up by scientific data.

Whey and Colostrum as Supplements

As is apparent, the body experiences an increased protein demand after a heavy workout or other high-impact exercise. The exhausted muscle and brain cells call for the replenishment of energy. That’s where the role of supplements like whey and colostrum come into play.

Whey is the liquid separated from casein in milk, produced as a by-product during the manufacture of cheese. As a supplement, whey protein has a high content of an amino acid called leucine, is absorbed quickly, and results in a pronounced expansion in protein synthesis in the muscles. Supplementation with whey during resistance training exercises augments lean body mass,9 increases muscle strength and endurance, and helps burn excess body fat.

sports supplements

Whey and colostrum supplementation are proven aids for muscular growth.

Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mammary glands in humans, cows and goats. Production begins during pregnancy and continues through the initial stages of breastfeeding. Increasing the intake of protein-enriched supplements like colostrum and whey will speed up recovery (after a heavy workout) and boost our performance and endurance. Our energy-depleted muscle cells need surplus protein to repair and heal.

Colostrum as a supplement (oral colostrum) is derived from bovine or goat milk. It’s all the rage today because it is packed with growth factors (including but not limited to IGF-1), proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies that fend off disease-causing agents. In addition to these amazing properties, this nutrient-loaded cocktail has the capability to restore IGF-110 in a setting with a deficiency of growth factors.

Since consumption of dairy products raises IGF-1 levels and promotes overall growth and lean body mass, it is well understood how colostrum (a dairy derivative) would fuel growth by amplifying IGF-1 levels. This makes it a highly effective supplement for athletes.

Colostrum and Free Radicals

Our body’s antioxidant systems help to neutralize free radicals, which are highly reactive and damanging molecules. The oxidative damage in our muscles encountered during high-impact and resistance training exercise is thought to cause an imbalance between free radicals and our ability to combat them.

In experimental studies, supplementation of colostrum in mice has been shown to shield against this exercise-induced oxidative harm to skeletal muscles. The abundance of growth factors like IGF-1 in colostrum accounts for its antioxidant qualities,11 which aside from protecting our muscles, can also reduce our vulnerability to cardiovascular diseases. The potential protection from heart disease may outweigh the fear of IGF-1-induced decrease in longevity from the potential cancer risk.

Oxidative stress has also been identified as a cause of mutations and cancer development. Surprisingly, colostrum exhibits anticancer activity. Colostrum triggers the production of a vitamin D derived-binding protein,12 called GcMaf. This protein has antitumor characteristics13 and is being extensively studied as a therapy for various cancers.

In other words, even though colostrum increases IGF-1, it also has the potential to function as a therapy for cancer. For people who keen to blame everything that increases IGF-1 for cancer, this would seem somewhat contradictory. Clearly, nature is smart in her design and there is more to this then you might suspect.

Introducing Adaptogens

Adaptogens are a distinct family of botanicals that facilitate your body’s adaptation to physical and mental stressors. Many adaptogens have been consumed for hundreds or years, and are sworn by in the East.

The most popular adaptogens include:

  • Reishi, also called “The Mushroom of Immortality.” A researched, lifespan-promoting mushroom.14
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), which has also been proven to extend lifespan in experiments on organisms such as worms.15
  • Green tea has long been touted as a health and longevity-promoting substance, but it can also help increase growth hormone.16
  • Astragalus is an herb from Traditional Chinese Medicine that has also been used for longevity. Turns out, it can also increase IGF-1 in damaged muscle to facilitate repair.

In the end, we cannot avoid growth. Our cells divide and this is a natural part of aging; the body is a constantly renewing system. What we can do is make sure that we protect our cells from free radicals with plenty of antioxidants that will in turn promote optimal cell division. This can be achieved by following a healthy diet that is high in antioxidant-rich vegetables and berries.

It can also be done by supplementing with herbs previously mentioned. Many adaptogens have been shown to help fight cancer. This is just one reason why supplementing with them is ideal for promoting longevity during growth and all periods of life.

One effect of low IGF-1 or an improperly functioning IGF-1 receptor is that the body increases its antioxidant defenses. This makes sense because if the body cannot rebuild its resources, it will try harder to protect them. Nature intended for IGF-1 to function as it does, and an increased antioxidant defense might just be one potential solution to prevent mutating cells from becoming cancerous. But what about people with already proven longevity? Is just luck or is there more to it?


Adaptogens can increase the body’s disease-fighting and growth potential.

Factors that Predict Human Longevity

Have you ever wondered why some Chinese populations live longer, relative to other populations? The IGF-1 levels in these groups plummet during old age. They also have a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, which helps. But hang on, there’s one more factor you might not have heard of: Some of them have it in their DNA!17

Healthy centenarians do not display a deterioration in cognitive performance18 as compared to the Laron dwarfs, who typically have a subnormal (below average) IQ. Is the solution to longevity then to constantly maintain low IGF-1 levels? We don’t think so.

Saunas, Cyclical Growth, Performance and Longevity

The hyperthermic conditioning acquired through saunas is an extraordinarily effective way of boosting growth (in a cyclical fashion) and longevity. A single sauna session is estimated to cause an upsurge in GH by 140%.19

The intriguing effect of the sauna on our body has enhanced its value for the treatment of a variety of conditions, including obesity, heart failure, chronic fatigue, depression, and various musculoskeletal, respiratory, and skin disorders. The rise in the core body temperature experienced during a sauna session dilates the vessels supplying blood and oxygen to every organ, including the muscles (muscle perfusion), and accelerates recovery from muscular exhaustion and fatigue. The massive GH surge mentioned above serves to strengthen and build up new muscle tissue. Moreover, the induction of heat shock proteins (HSPs) prompts the muscles to regrow20 and attenuates muscular damage. HSPs are molecular chaperones that promote the transport of repair proteins.

To sum it up, intermittent heat therapy is an extremely efficient way to safely stimulate periodic growth for both performance and longevity.

Other Natural Ways to Elevate IGF-1

Before we finish, here are a few additional ways to escalate IGF-1:

  • Vigorous exercise induces the release of growth hormone and IGF-1. This is responsible for the muscular and toned physique that you see in elite bodybuilders and athletes, and is believed to promote enhanced IQ (neurogenesis).
  • Vitamin D and IGF-1 go hand in hand,21 indicating that vitamin D supplementation can help you acquire the target IGF-1 levels.
  • A new area of research that is opening up is the use of ketogenic diets to treat and halt cancer progression.22 This is because the primary fuel of many cancer types is glucose. Ketogenic diets use fats for energy instead of glucose. The state of ketosis (fat fueled) is similar to a state of starvation, but not in a negative way. In starvation mode and when fasting, growth hormone increases. This opens up the possibility of maintaining high growth hormone without fueling cancers, which is indeed an interesting subject for future research.

Leverage IGF-1 for Growth and Longevity

We no longer find ourselves lost in the struggle to determine whether IGF-1 is a bane or a boon. It all depends on how you utilize it and when.

Nature never intended for us to experience constant, excessive periods of growth. Growth takes place when and where it is needed. Varying dietary patterns with strategies like periods of bulking and fasting are natural, and we can clearly see that our bodies are adapted to function in this way. Some IGF-1 boosting substances such as colostrum even help to fight cancer.

Don’t be afraid of IGF-1 for periods of performance and growth. You need to build and grow your body and mind to reap the benefits of increased performance; there is no other way. Performance can then be maintained in such easy ways as following a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and by using supplements such as adaptogens, colostrum, and whey during periods of heavy workloads to help protect and keep the cells in your body working optimally. Adaptogenic herbs have the potential to help counterbalance the cancer risks associated with an accelerated growth pattern, even if these risks are small using natural means.

What we should be asking is whether modern diets, high in IGF-1-stimulating sugars and high glycemic carbs, really promote optimal functioning of our IGF-1 receptors. Does a fat-adapted diet such as the ketogenic diet provide unique longevity benefits not possible when relying on glucose for energy? The future looks interesting, and only time will tell what the whole story behind IGF-1 is.

In a nutshell, you can still reap the benefits of enhanced physical and mental resilience without jeopardizing your longevity. Don’t forget, “the proof is in the pudding.” You can’t leverage your dynamism unless you work hard for it!

More on making your hormones work for you:

Obesity, Appetite, and the PYY Hormone


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