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Inside the Mighty (and Very Round) HGH Gut

That’s not just muscle — it’s also intestines, which are now twice as big as normal

When Joe Rogan stripped down for his Sober October weigh-in in 2019, his physique captured a ton of online attention from people who were anxious to visually dissect it. The most eyebrow-raising feature of the multi-hyphenate’s body was his robust midsection, which many evaluators claimed was protruding in an unnatural fashion. 

Rogan later tipped his hand as to what may have caused the manifestation of this feature when he explained to stand-up comic Andrew Schulz that he takes one unit of human growth hormone every day to maintain his vitality. As such, many people began to attribute the relative rotundity of Rogan’s muscular midsection to his daily HGH dosing.

What is HGH anyway?

Human growth hormone is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the pituitary gland. It’s largely responsible for the growth of all tissues in developing children and adolescents, including their muscles, bones and internal organs. 

Synthetic forms of HGH have been abused by athletes for decades to build muscle mass and to promote rapid recovery from injuries. Even though several tests for human growth hormone have been developed and implemented, HGH is still extremely difficult to detect. The only HGH tests that have been even remotely reliable have involved blood testing, so testing for HGH isn’t nearly as simple as checking for the testosterone level contained in a urine sample. 

In 2015, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report declared that HGH use was running roughshod over the NFL because players knew there was essentially no way they could get caught, even with direct HGH testing protocols in place. Unfortunately, the low reliability of HGH tests has resulted in many of the athletic achievements of the last 25 years to be viewed dubiously.

But Joe Rogan isn’t competing in anything; he’s using HGH for therapy. How is HGH used therapeutically? 

Let’s start by discussing Rogan’s other therapeutic undertakings. Back in 2017, Rogan openly disclosed his testosterone replacement therapy, which he said was intended to maintain his testosterone levels at that of a younger man. This sort of therapy is generally sought after to help men increase lean muscle mass and strength, along with libido elevation.

Similar to testosterone replacement therapy, human growth hormone therapy would be expected to increase muscle mass, but it would also reduce fat and increase bone size and density.

Okay, got it. But where does an HGH belly come from, and how is that different from an HGH-free midsection?

The specific term for this condition is “Palumboism,” which was discourteously named after bodybuilder David Palumbo as he was the first person to both publicly and prominently exhibit this type of conspicuously bulging belly.

It’s been postulated that HGH gut isn’t solely the result of HGH use, but a side effect resulting from a confluence of factors. First of all, because HGH can signal for the internal organs to continue their growth, the intestines can grow up to twice their normal size, and sometimes the only direction they can grow is outward. Also, HGH is often stacked with insulin, which can result in the storage of visceral fat behind the stomach, causing it to jut outwards. High carbohydrate diets further contribute to this by storing glycogen in the blood, which attracts water. The presence of the added water can lead to further distention of the midsection.

However, special attention should be called to an additional cause of bubble gut, which is the growth of large abdominal muscles. The use of HGH can cause irregular growth of all of the muscles in the midsection, including the abdominals and the obliques. This can further contribute to a blocky appearance.

Got it. So Rogan’s gut is definitely from HGH use?

That’s a step I’m not prepared to take for a few different reasons.

First of all, Rogan has been very honest about his use of all supplements, including testosterone, which he began taking at 39. Even before that, Rogan was in phenomenal shape and trained manically. More importantly, Rogan has a relatively stocky shape and stands around 5-foot-6, which makes it easier for him to noticeably enlarge and widen his abdominal muscles whenever he targets them directly with specific exercises. Also, if aspects of Rogan’s training regimen resemble that of a powerlifter, he would be expected to experience thickening of his midsection, and the development of a rectangular, blocky physique

Finally, without further information about how Rogan supplements — and I can’t really see him supplementing like a bodybuilder by stacking with insulin, manipulating his physique with water or consuming copious amounts of carbohydrates — it would be a bit of a reach to assume the thickening of Rogan’s waistline is 100 percent attributable to the relatively small doses of HGH he’s been taking, considering what occurs in the bodies of far more likely HGH abusers.

Does this mean that Rogan’s stomach has nothing to do with HGH? 

I’m not saying that; I simply feel obligated to be fair. Yes, Rogan has admitted to taking testosterone in small, regular doses, and he’s also admitted to taking HGH in small, regular doses. But when I watch the full video in question, evaluate it fairly and don’t simply freeze on the most intentionally unflattering shots, I don’t see anything on Rogan’s physique that can’t be explained by the development of large midsection muscles on the physique of a 5-foot-6 man. At least when compared with the very obvious HGH guts of these guys: