Since Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease of the bowel, it’s often treated with immunosuppresants and anti-inflammatory drugs. As their name suggests, immunosuppressants suppress the immune system and therefore the body’s inflammation response. However, these treatments come with side effects, so physicians looks for ways to counteract side effects without reducing the efficacy, or effectiveness, of the drugs. Treating Crohn’s in children is even more of a challenge since one effect of Crohn’s is failure to grow.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported a study in 2000 that showed a decrease in disease activity when Crohn’s patients took protein supplements. Supplements further enhance the body’s ability to use protein. Additional studies also demonstrate that protein supplementation was partially successful in easing Crohn’s symptoms.

Researchers then looked at what happened if they added growth hormones to the protein supplements, and found the two in combination were even more effective at reducing symptoms than supplements alone.

Growth hormones increase the body’s immune response, which you would expect would worsen the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. However, growth hormones also enhance the uptake of critical amino acids, which are found in proteins. In animal studies, administering growth hormones increased intestinal protein synthesis.

In 2007, the journal Pediatric Endocrinology Metabolism featured a study, which demonstrated that introducing growth hormones was associated with a cessation in deterioration of linear growth in teens. However, the treatment did not improve the teens’ height, so the researchers recommended additional studies with higher doses of growth hormone.

The results of a more recent study reported in the Journal of Pediatrics also supported using growth hormones in treating children with Crohn’s disease. The study reported that the percent of mean body mass decreased in patients with Crohn’s, but increased lean body mass, which is desirable.

This study also showed that calcium and vitamin D supplements don’t affect reduced bone mineral content, and suggested that bisphosphonates may be an effective treatment option to increase height in teens with Crohn’s disease. Bisphosphonates are a class of chemicals that bind strongly to calcium and have been shown to increase bone mineral density. Researchers recommend additional controlled trials over longer periods to further study this effect.

While the efficacy of growth hormones in conjunction with protein supplementation is still unclear, preliminary evidence suggests that it helps reverse children’s failure to grow due to Crohn’s disease.