This study compared the anticatabolic and wound healing effects of the anabolic agents human growth hormone, HGH, and the testosterone analogue, oxandrolone, after severe burn injury. A randomized prospective study design was used. Patients were given HGH at a dose of 0.1 mg/kg/day (n = 20) or oxandrolone, 20 mg/day (n = 16), beginning between days 7-10 post-burn. Data was compared to burn patients not placed on either agent (n = 24). Patients were monitored until they were sufficiently healed to be transferred to a rehabilitation center. The results of our study were as follows. All patients survived. Net weight loss was 8 +/- 2.1 kg in the control group compared with 4 +/- 1.8 kg with HGH and 3 +/- 1.2 kg with oxandrolone, a significant decrease. Net daily nitrogen loss was 12 +/- 3 g in non-treated compared to 3 g or less for each of the anabolic groups, a significant decrease. The metabolic rate in untreated burns was 155 + 25% of predicted normal, compared to 178 +/- 28% for HGH and 156 +/- 20% for oxandrolone treated patients. The complete healing time of a standardized donor site, decreased from the control value of 14 +/- 2 days to 10 +/- 3 days for HGH and 10 +/- 2 days for oxandrolone treated patients, a significant improvement. Hyperglycemia (glucose over 225 mg/dl 12.5 mM) was present in 100% of HGH patients compared to 55% for control and 50% for oxandrolone treated. We found that both anabolic agents significantly decreased weight and nitrogen loss and increased healing with nearly identical benefits. However HGH resulted in the significant complications of hyperglycemia and accentuated hypermetabolism. We noted no side effects with oxandrolone.