The analysis of the fallout of the Mitchell Report, continued from last week, deserves a look at one of the most prominently banned substances that has led to the criticism and suspension of athletes in several sports like football and baseball. That substance is Human Growth Hormone and has been plaguing and will continue to plague professional sports. It will be one of the largest obstacles that the sports world faces in creating a clean and fair sporting environment. A few of the many athletes that have been linked to HGH are New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettite, Seattle Marriners outfielder Jose Guillen, New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and Dallas Cowboys quarterback coach Wade Wilson.
HGH is one of the major illegal substances that has come into focus in the Mitchell Report and subsequent congressional hearings.
There is a lot to know about the substance, and it doesn’t appear that the general public is all that knowledgeable about what HGH is and what its effects are. What exactly is HGH and what should be known about it?
According to information provided by Senior Instructor and Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician at UR Medical Center Mark Mirabelli, M.D., HGH is a naturally occurring hormone. It is also known as somatotropin and is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain.
“In children and adolescents the hormone is involved in tissue growth and specifically results in increased height. A deficiency results in some types of dwarfism, an excess causes gigantism,” Mirabelli said.
In the case of gigantism, think of Andre the Giant or current seven -foot-seven-inch University of North Carolina-Asheville men’s basketball player Kenny George.
As a person matures into adulthood, HGH has a different role. “In adults, however, the hormone no longer causes humans to get taller but rather is involved in tissue regeneration.,” Mirabelli said.
In adults, excess HGH results in a condition called acromegaly, an unpleasant-appearing and potentially fatal condition which causes its victims to have uneven enlargement of the hands and feet and enlargement of the bones of the head.
There is currently no way to test for the presence of HGH in a person’s body, but an effective commercial test is currently under development.
“HGH was extracted from cadavers but later was synthesized by the pharmaceutical industry. Several brands currently exist, which are biochemically indistinguishable from native HGH.
HGH can actually be tested by blood, but the pharmaceutical variety cannot be differentiated from the native hormone through current testing,” Mirabelli said.
“Even though native and synthetic HGH is chemically identical, tests are currently being developed to detect differences, likely through the presence of certain types of carbon atoms and in the way the protein folding occurs. Regardless, levels of the hormone in excess of typical adult levels would be suspicious for abuse.”
Why is HGH becoming the top choice for performance-enhancing drugs by those trying to gain an unfair advantage?
“HGH has considerably less evidence for efficacy as a performance enhancing substance, but in many ways is theoretically almost a perfect anabolic agent,” Mirabelli said.
“It stimulates growth of skeletal muscle, strengthens bones, ligaments and tendons and decreases fat mass. As such, there is a considerably large potential for abuse.”
With the elevated amount of concern over the availability of HGH and the dangers associated with it, there needs to be a better method of control.
“Like all medications, HGH is regulated by the FDA and cannot be legally obtained without a physician’s prescription. Unlike anabolic steroids (testosterone and its analogues), however, its sale and distribution is not tracked by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Increased regulation could potentially decrease abuse, but as evidenced by anabolic steroids, regulation does not always result in a more restricted supply,” Mirabelli said.
“True HGH is an injectable prescriptiyon drug and extremely expensive – approximately $1,000 per month for typical course when used for performance enhancement… The internet ads… are likely simply fake products – keep in the mind that the 1994 DSHEA – Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act – deregulated the supplement industry. Even if they are actual tablet forms of growth hormone, they would be ineffective, as they would be digested in the stomach.
Therefore, injectable HGH used for athletic performance enhancement must be obtained either from a covert black market source.” According to Assistant Trainer for UR Athletics and Certified Athletic Trainer Angelo Zegarelli, colleges should be concerned about the use of HGH.
“Colleges should be worried about HGH and other performance enhancers,” Zegarelli said. I think the NCAA does a pretty good job with testing, but they need to become leaders in testing and detection. More schools are testing regularly, [Division] I tests all year and [Division] III has started a pilot drug testing program that will test athletes year long. They keep adding new designer drugs to the tests. Coaches and other athletic department members must make a stand if they know the athletes are ‘cheating’ and report drug use.”
Levy is a member of the class of 2008.