Human Growth Hormone in Sports

As far as I know, there's no test for it. And by many reports, it works like a charm. Is there HGH in basketball? I have no idea. But you have to believe it's possible.

Gretchen Reynolds wrote a good article about human growth hormone in this weekend's PLAY magazine, the quarterly sports magazine of The New York Times.

Growth hormone has also become popular with athletes who believe it builds muscle and improves speed. “It’s definitely the drug du jour,” says Chuck Kimmel, the president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. The catch is that it’s illegal. The Food and Drug Administration has banned H.G.H. for all but a few specific medical conditions (see “The Outlaw Drug”), and it has been banned by most professional sports leagues in the United States and by the International Olympic Committee. In June, the house of Jason Grimsley, a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, was searched on the suspicion that he received H.G.H. In Europe, bags of growth hormone were reportedly seized as evidence in a recent Tour de France doping scandal. And in July, James Shortt, a physician in South Carolina, was sentenced in federal court for his role in providing growth hormone and steroids to, among other patients, several players on the Carolina Panthers football team. As he told the former Panthers tight end Wesley Walls in a tape-recorded consultation, “Everybody is using it.”

The important research into the safety of HGH has not really been done. But theoretically, at least, there are plenty of reasons not to take it. Again, Reynolds reports:

But the doctors who recommend growth hormone tend to ignore an editorial that ran in the same issue of The Journal and that warned about the use of H.G.H. by healthy people. The editorial noted that H.G.H. can alter the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, leading to blood-sugar imbalances and, in some cases, diabetes. It can cause bones to thicken, contributing to joint pain and severe arthritis. Amounts of H.G.H. even slightly beyond the normal range can result in high blood pressure, edema and, in the worst cases, congestive heart failure. In a later editorial, which cited a more recent study, The Journal added that healthy people who took extra doses of H.G.H. gained muscle mass, but they didn’t get stronger. Only those who lifted weights did.

Doctors worry about another possible danger of H.G.H. “Growth hormone is a trigger for unbridled cell growth,” says Dr. Thomas Perls, an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine and the director of the ongoing New England Centenarian Study, which looks at the genetics and lifestyle habits of people who live to be 100. “That’s its role in the body. That is also the mechanism behind cancer.” Several studies have linked high production levels of growth hormone to the development of prostate tumors and invasive breast cancer.

By the way, the article also says it has to be injected to be effective: those powders and pills you might see for sale reportedly break down in your digestive system before they can do their stuff. (I'm not telling you that to help you use H.G.H. wisely. I hope you don't use it all, and I especially hope that, in trying to cheat, you won't also give your money to some fraudster.)