Malcolm Gladwell endorses the use of Human Growth Hormone for athletes, at least when it’s used to recover from injury:
What, exactly, is wrong with an athlete–someone who makes a living with their body–taking medication to speed their recovery from injury? Is it wrong to take ibruprofen? Is it wrong to ice a sore elbow? For that matter, is it ethical or even legal for Major League Baseball–or indeed any employee or governing body–to deny an employee access to a potentially beneficial medical treatment?
The closest analogy I can think of here is to medical marijuana, which is another case where it seems difficult for some people in positions of power to understand that a drug can be used for more than one purpose.
I’m inclined to agree. It’s always a little frustrating that the media never bothers to distinguish between anabolic steroid use and HGH. Sure, both are hormones, but that’s not saying very much. Daniel Engber, in Slate, wrote a solid explanation of the difference between HGH and steroids earlier this year:
So far, no one has been able to connect the increase in lean body tissue caused by HGH with enhancement of athletic performance. Unlike steroids, growth hormone hasn’t been shown to increase weight-lifting ability; in the lab, it has a greater effect on muscle definition than muscle strength. And it doesn’t seem to help much with cardiovascular fitness, either.
Obviously, chronic use of HGH should be discouraged, if only because nobody really knows if HGH might actually affect athletic performance. But I don’t think HGH use by itself is cause for an uproar. If athletes want to risk the minor side-effects of temporary HGH use in order to recover from an injury, then that’s fine with me. I realize baseball has to guard against a slippery slope, but it’s also important to realize that not all hormones are equivalent. My analogy for HGH is injected painkillers, which have really changed the game of football. Players can now play through injuries that used to put them on the sidelines. Is that a bad thing?