The NFL (National Football League) recently announced their updated measures for drug testing its professional players. Included is a new schedule for testing for synthetic Human Growth Hormone. It’s an interesting development for many reasons, but what strikes us primarily is how late in the day the NFL have gotten around to doing this.
It’s true that rules against the use of HGH were not enforceable until relatively recently compared to its anabolic steroid cousins. This was because the detection of the drug was so unreliable that the case against it being a true positive was too strong to take to court. That said, they had nailed down a more accurate blood test by the early 2000s and were readily using it during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
The NFL are therefore a full decade later than WADA (The World Anti-Dopin Agency) in bringing this type of testing to the fore. They have always done things their way and in their own time, so it comes as no surprise that ten years has gone by before they have something in place.
Detection of Synthetic HGH
During the 1980s and 90s, when steroid users had to start going to ground or weren’t able to use the banned substances so prolifically (or indeed at all), the use of synthetic HGH became a go-to option. For many a pro athlete, HGH became their main substance for fear that steroids were going to end their career, or at least be the cause of heavy suspension and fines.
With respect to its detection, HGH was a safe option at the time as it appeared testing could not accurately distinguish between the synthetic stuff injected and the body’s endogenous volume produced by the pituitary gland. During the early 2000s, however, blood tests which could differentiate between the natural and artificial types of HGH began to be rolled out by sports governing bodies, in particular the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), at the Olympic Games.
Use of HGH in the NFL
So how rife is this problem amongst the NFL, for example? Well, you don’t have to research too hard to find the unofficial answer to that question. If the testing had come unannounced and random selection, the general belief is that a few mighty footballers would be facing the four game suspension being issued as the first instance of detection.Incidentally, it’s 10 games for a second offence, and then a two year ban for third offences and upward.
The testing has been announced though and considering the short life-cycle of the synthetic compound in the bloodstream, those that aren’t too keen on a ban are going to be able to pack it in before they have detectable levels.
Of course, there are those who will continue to risk their careers to get ahead because there always are. How long have steroids been banned and yet some big names keep being taken down, right? Sometimes the chase for glory outweighs the potential fall from grace. Using the NFL again: 8 players from 5 teams will be selected each week for testing. It’s a numbers game, and plenty will play the odds.
How Effective is HGH as a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED)?
As usual, the scientific community is divided on the matter of growth hormone efficacy as a PED. There isn’t much debate that elevated levels of the hormone – whether synthesized or released endogenously (natural production within the body) – causes a growth reaction in both bones and muscle tissue, along with a reduction in body fat retention. Sounds good indeed.
The debate is more over the effectiveness of the hormone as a strength builder. Now, it’s a relatively young research subject, which only adds to the dichotomy of opinion. There’s two or more scientific schools of thought before you even get to the anecdotal and empirical ‘evidence’ from the athletic community. Spending time listening to any would have you convinced of their side of things.
With regard to strength, some studies suggest that the connective tissue within muscles is increased, which explains the size and mass gains, but there is little effect on the proteins themselves either in length or number.
Another study will show that the recovery speed from injuries such as achilles tears is quickened, others say recovery time is unaffected. For an offensive lineman in the NFL, size counts. In many ways, size is his strength. So where does that leave us in the usefulness of HGH.
One thing’s for sure, it isn’t much use to anyone on a two year suspension.
Difference Between Natural and Synthetic HGH
Endogenous (natural) growth hormone is largely responsible for the teenage growth spurt. At that stage in life, the pituitary gland’s release is at its highest, but there are certainly advantages to retaining a high level of natural HGH production into adulthood.
The level of circulating hormones is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain; it stimulates the release of hormones which have opposite roles to play but work in balance to affect the level of released HGH. This balance is largely based on need, such as the repair of muscle or bone tissue. One of the factors that influences this is the breakdown of muscle as a result of resistance weight training.
As we get older, the amount of growth hormone produced dwindles. A boost in natural production would therefore be welcome.
Conversely, Synthetic HGH cannot be regulated by the brain and enters the bloodstream via injection. It works directly on the muscle and exerts its effects. In many cases, it is used alongside anabolic steroids to compound their effect. There are many potential side effects to using growth hormone in this way, which we will touch on next.
Safety of Synthetic HGH
Too much unregulated growth hormone can cause unwanted effects:
- Unnatural growth of bone (particularly around the jaw, fingers and toes)
- Chronic headaches, vision impairment
- Displacement of other hormones
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Potential for exacerbation of tumour growth
There are more negative effects, but this article’s purpose is to not labour the point. Suffice it to say that the introduction of this form of the hormone is not without significant risk.
The Final Word on the use of Synthetic HGH
Artificial human growth hormone is illegal without prescription, and potentially dangerous. That said, the amount of athletes probably using it at present means some level of control has been found in order for the drug to be administered with minimal negative impact on health. The chances of achieving this without professional medical support are a lot less for the average gym goer.
There are definitely viable alternative options available to people who do not want to risk the negative effects of using injectable synthetic HGH, not to mention the legal problems and high cost.
Safe Althernative – Natural GH Boosters
Growth Hormone boosters are a relatively new introduction to the sports supplement industry, but they are rapidly becoming very popular among everyone from weight lifters to people just feeling the effects of getting older.
These types of supplements are considered to be entirely safe as they simply stimulate – using natural ingredients – endogenous levels of growth hormone, which the brain can regulate healthily. Follow the link below if you want to read more.