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Secretagogues: What They Are & How They're Used

Aging is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Nor must it happen as quickly as we fear.

Secretagogues, a little-known class of substances used in anti-aging therapies, offer a partial solution to signs of aging once thought inevitable: low energy, low libido, muscle loss, and more.

Secretagogues aren’t a miracle cure for aging, of course. But the evidence behind them is strong, and we’re learning more every year about how they work and how to use them. Here’s what you should know about how secretagogues work, how they’re used in medicine, and what to expect from therapy.

What Are Secretagogues?

Secretagogues are substances that encourage the body to secrete other substances. 

Secretagogues occur naturally in the body, but certain medical conditions may inhibit their functioning. 

For example, in type 2 diabetes, insulin secretagogues are present in reduced quantities, inhibiting the insulin releasing function of the pancreas. This reduces the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, which can negatively impact patient health over time.

How Are Secretagogues Used in Medicine?

Secretagogues have several evidence-based medical uses.

Diabetes Management

Insulin secretagogues can help treat type 2 diabetes, usually in combination with a glucose inhibitor like metformin or medications that make insulin more efficient, such as pioglitazone.

Growth Hormone Therapy (Anti-Aging Therapy)

Growth hormone secretagogues like ghrelin, somatostatin, and octanoyl may be used in hormone replacement therapies to fight the effects of aging. 

Many providers prefer growth hormone secretagogues to bioidentical hormone treatments because they’re “gentler.” Instead of directly adding hormones to the body, they simply encourage the body to produce more hormones naturally. Although they’re not as effective as direct hormone replacement, they’re less likely to have serious side effects and complications.

Cancer Treatment

Secretagogues may also be useful in the treatment of certain types of cancer. According to a 2004 study published in the Encyclopedia of Endocrine Diseases, the secretagogues ghrelin and GHS may inhibit the proliferation of certain breast and lung tumors.

However, the same secretagogues may actually encourage the growth of other types of tumors, such as prostate tumors.

Secretagogue Therapy: What to Expect

Secretagogue therapy is tailored to the individual needs of each patient. Secretagogue selection, dosing, treatment duration, and other parameters comprise the treatment plan, which the patient and provider work to flesh out during their initial consultation and possibly subsequent visits.

Secretagogue therapy may last for a set length of time or indefinitely, depending on the patient’s needs and objectives. Initial dosing may be low to reduce the risk of early complications, then increase as needed to progress the treatment.

Secretagogue Side Effects and Cautions

Although secretagogue therapy is less risky than direct hormone replacement therapy, it does have some potential side effects and risks. These can include:

  • Weight gain and changes in appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Vision changes
  • Acne
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual changes
  • Breast tenderness

Talk to your provider before beginning a course of treatment. If you’re concerned about any side effects that develop after beginning treatment, notify your provider right away to see about discontinuing or modifying your treatment plan.