In the light of so much controversy recently surrounding the alleged use of performance enhancers by pro athletes, including the use of Human Growth Hormone, you may wonder why this substance is banned in all pro sports. After all, it may seem confusing when a substance naturally produced by the body is considered an illegal drug by sports organizations. Especially since Major League Baseball’s recent sanctions against almost 20 baseball players found to be using HGH with other performance enhancers were so harsh, it may be helpful to understand why most anti-doping and professional sports organizations have taken the stance against HGH that is now playing out on the world stage.
Although human growth hormone is naturally secreted by the pituitary gland in order to help bones grow and to promote the production of “insulin like growth factor” (IGF-1) for bone, muscle, and organ growth, as many of us know, this production slows down as we age. Some experts estimate that the body reduces its production of HGH by 1-2% per year after puberty is complete. As the levels drop, a whole host of changes can occur in the body, including a loss of lean muscle mass, an increase in body fat, especially in the waist area, aging of the skin, and bones that lose their density. For athletes, especially those at the elite levels of their sports, these changes can be detrimental or even career-ending.
In order to boost HGH levels in the body and reverse the damage that has been done by decreasing HGH levels, many athletes began turning to a synthetic form of HGH that needed to be injected into the body, since an HGH pill would be made useless by stomach acid. Word of mouth testimony about the many benefits of human growth hormone, from its ability to speed up healing from injuries, to the way it can help build lean muscle mass, reduce fat and promote health and vitality, was very convincing to athletes facing health issues or injuries. Many athletes also began to combine HGH with other illegal substances, such as testosterone or steroids, because it seemed to act as a boost for those substances. Suddenly, athletes who took HGH had an advantage over athletes who did not use performance enhancing substances, a big no-no in the competitive sports realm, where players are supposed to be matched in skill and talent, and not pitted against players who had an “unnatural” advantage.
In order to ensure some players were not using HGH to boost their performance unfairly, drug testing organizations developed a test to detect HGH, first used at the 2004 Olympic Games. Since a urine test cannot accurately determine if there are above-normal levels of HGH, the test is a blood test. A blood test is also a better testing choice since it can guard against false readings due to the fact that people already have HGH in their bodies naturally. The HGH test actually tests the ratio of different types of HGH, and a ratio that is out-of-whack will show the athlete injected themselves with synthetic HGH. Since so many players heard stories about the restorative and beneficial properties of HGH, and since there has actually been a study that shows HGH improves athletic performance in sprint capacity by 4% when used alone and 8% when combined with testosterone in men, it’s easy to see why HGH would seem very attractive.
Because HGH is shown to give athletes an advantage over their counterparts who aren’t using it, and because many athletes combine their use of HGH with other illegal substances, it is a banned substance in football, baseball, golf, the Olympics, and most other professional sports. It was also on the World-Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substances list, although there is some grey area there in light of the recent controversies regarding HGH in skiing and in pro golf.
So there you have it, the story of how a substance produced naturally in the body, and useful for maintaining health and vitality in natural forms as we age, such as with Deer Antler Spray, became one of the most controversial substances in pro sports today. Athletes who are paid to play professional sports will have to really decide if their desire to have that slight competitive edge is worth the consequences faced by Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGuire, Ryan Braun, Vijay Singh, Barry Bonds, and so many other athletes whose names are now associated with cheating rather than winning.