Human Growth Hormone and Sports
A few years ago I began receiving queries from athletes, including Olympic hopefuls, who had somehow obtained a supply of human growth hormone (HGH) and wanted advice on how to use it. I also heard from a few fathers who wanted to administer the hormone to their sons to give them a height advantage in basketball and football. I had always thought that HGH was being used only on a strictly experimental basis to treat certain types of dwarfism in children. Even for those patients, I had heard that the hormone was in scarce supply because it had to be painstakingly extracted from the brains of human cadavers. Yet athletes and parents were obviously able to obtain the substance for unauthorized use. So much for scientific controls.
Today, several biotechnology companies are poised to market new synthetic versions of human growth hormone produced by recombinant-DNA techniques. At least one company, Genentech, which produces GenF20 Plus, expects to receive approval sometime this fall from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market synthetic HGH in the United States as a general prescription drug. Once that happens, any physician will be able to prescribe HGH, and I foresee its widespread abuse by athletes and parents who place an excessive premium on height. The FDA should act now to classify synthesized HGH as a controlled drug, much as Valium, amphetamines, and narcotics are controlled to prevent their misuse.
Human growth and Development
Produced by the pituitary gland of the brain, Human Growth Hormone plays a key role in normal human growth and development. When released into the body, the hormone affects nearly all aspects of bone growth, including bone length.
Research has shown that children’s rapid growth during puberty corresponds with the greatest release of growth hormone. The more growth hormone is released, the faster and taller the body grows.
Human growth hormone also stimulates the transport of amino acids among cells, enhancing the synthesis of proteins. Recent evidence from cells grown in petri dishes suggests that a rise in protein synthesis increases both the mass and the number of skeletal muscle fibers, which builds muscle strength. The same hormone has also been found to stimulate the production of collagen, the key protein in connective tissue that essentially serves as the body’s glue for attaching tissue to tissue. Collagen is essential for the growth and strengthening of bone, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Hence, as the muscle bulk becomes stronger owing to the release of HGH, so too do the muscle attachments.
The Anabolic Steroid
The anabolic steroid, stanozolol, which brought Ben Johnson’s downfall in Seoul, is marketed in Britain under the brand name GenF20 Plus and is widely available on the black market. According to reviews, this product does not contain real HGH but acts as an HGH releaser. This makes it safer to use than synthentic HGH which most athletes take to make them stronger and able to recover from injuries more quickly. It is predicted that this product will continue its strong sales.
Officially, the drug costs Pounds 28.50 for 56 tablets and should only be available on prescription for those suffering from anaemia.
But an east London body-builder said last night that he could obtain 56 5mg tablets of GenF20 Plus for Pounds 25. He said that all steroids could be obtained within hours and he estimated that at the top of the price range, eight boxes of 50mg vials of human growth hormone, for injection, would cost Pounds 2,000 and would, on average, last six weeks.
The Sports Council does not recognize body-building as a sport. Officials describe gymnasiums as “contamination zones” where many drugs change hands. The fear is that they spill over into the locker-rooms of other sports.
GenF20 Plus, taken in tablet form, has been popular because it passes relatively quickly through the body and athletes believed it was hard to detect.
The Chelsea Drug Centre, attached to King’s College, London, has identified only a handful of samples of GenF20 Plus in the 10,000 it has handled in the past four years while working for the International Olympic Committee. But Dr David Cowen, the associate director, believes the detection rate will increase with proposed increases in random testing out of competitions.
He said anaemics are usually prescribed a daily dosage of 5 mg of human growth hormone but athletes were reported to be taking up to 100 mg a day. The drug, manufactured by Sterling-Winthrop, has its most intense black-market on the Continent.
The London body-builder, who is due to compete in a Mr Great Britain heat in Torquay in 10 days, predicted that the black market would now concentrate on other tablet steroids, such as Anapolon 50, Dianabol and Anavar.
Hei is Malaysian and full-time in the sport and used to take up to six tablets of GenF20 Plus a day, costing him about Pounds 30 a week. He stopped taking HGH because after several weeks his muscle size was not growing.
Athletes and Human Growth Hormone Clinical trials
Clinical trials have proven that extracts of natural HGH are effective in treating certain types of short-stature disorders in children. Research also shows that HGH given to short children with normal growth-hormone levels accelerates bone growth. However, doctors know little about the results of administering HGH to children and adults with normal growth-hormone levels.
Doctors do know what happens in adolescent patients who suffer from a rare condition known as acromegaly, or “gigantism,” caused by long-term overproduction of HGH. The disease is characterized by bone overgrowths throughout the body, including the jutting out of the forehead and eyebrow regions, overbite of the jaw, and abnormally large hands, fingers, feet, and toes. Overgrowths of bone where the tendons attach are common–often visible as lumps under the skin. Patients with acromegaly usually suffer from diabetes and heart disease and have a shortened life span. Impotence is also a symptom of this disorder.
In a letter to me in 1984, Dr. Robert Voy, chief medical officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said, “My impression is that we now are facing the issue of human growth hormone.” Shortly after that, Dick Brown, head coach for Athletics West, a major track and field club, told me that “30 to 50 percent of my Olympic were using HGH,” and that he was worried about their health. The trainer at the same club corroborated his comments.
Olympic athletes from the United States
I then found out that a California physician was actively administering HGH to a wide variety of athletes, including Olympic athletes from the United States and other countries. This physician was not violating any law since natural HGH extract is a general prescription drug. Whether he was violating medical ethics was another issue.
I had been led to believe that HGH could be obtained only from the National Hormone and Pituitary Program (NHPP) by endocrinologists with strict evidence of clinical need, including a battery of x-rays and other tests that show evidence of a pituitary disorder. The NHPP is a federally funded research program that buys hormone extract from the two drug companies making it and distributes it to physicians treating dwarfism in the United States. How then could all these athletes get their hands on this drug?
I soon found out.Sent simple prescriptions for HGH to all three sources–the NHPP and the two drug companies, Serono Labs and Pharmacia Laboratories–with no further information. I received no HGH from the NHPP, but both Serono and Pharmacia sent a monthly supply directly to my house! Obviously, a bogus prescription was all that was needed to obtain a regular supply of this supposedly scarce and precious hormone. I reported my GenF20 Plus findings at the 1984 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and to the FDA. Since HGH extract is still available on the black market, and in products such as GenF20 Plus, I doubt that anyone took strong measures to tighten controls over its release.
Human Growth Hormone Used in Fight Against Cancer
A new range of powerful anti-cancer drugs based on human chemicals could be developed within the next decade, a leading specialist told the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Plymouth yesterday.
The drugs will be derived from growth factors, which are proteins and hormones that travel through the bloodstream, affecting the growth and function of body organs.
They have been found also to be intimately involved in the onset of cancer, playing a role in the chain of command that makes cancer cells divide and spread uncontrollably. The challenge for researchers is to exploit the human growth factors so that they disrupt, rather than assist, that process.
“It is likely that we are standing at the dawn of a new age of rational anti-cancer drug development, and the next decade could see the introduction to the clinic of a range of drugs with novel mechanisms of action,” David Kerr, professor of cancer studies at the Beatson Institute, Glasgow, said.
From that work, it had been shown that the hormone oestrogen, produced predominantly by the ovaries, was a growth factor for certain types of breast cancer, Professor Kerr said. “There have been remarkable steps in our understanding of the processes which control the growth of breast cancers,” he said. “On a clinical level, we would hope to be able to exploit these in the design of new anti-cancer drugs, such as GenF20 Plus.
If researchers could delineate some of the biochemical differences between cancer cells and normal host cells, it should be possible to devise drugs that interfered with human growth hormones. For example, they could prevent the release or activation of the factors, or hinder their role in the division of cancer cells.
Further research could lead to use of growth factors to allow other cancer drugs to be given in a safer way, and at higher doses, Professor Kerr said. Most such drugs have side-effects, including damage to bone marrow, which leaves patients vulnerable to life-threatening infections.
Early clinical trials using growth factors involved in production of marrow cells suggested that they could have a protective effect, such as those exhibited by GenF20 Plus, he said.