The Frontal Cortex

Human Growth Hormone

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?

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    December 19, 2007

    Food for thought, thanks for the post, but at what age should or could HGH be taken? If the pros are doing it, then college kids will, and what about high school use?

    If it could be prescribed legally, that would be good, in that it would take it out of the hands of a Balco, or cheap importers.

    I’m thinking we need more studies on this.

  2. #2 JIM MELTON
    December 19, 2007

    I am a physician who works in Emergency Departments and I have never seen a study saying HGH helps heal an injury. Does anyone know of any?

  3. #3 qetzal
    December 19, 2007

    Interstingly, hGH appears to be one of the few drugs where off-label use is illegal even with a doctor’s prescription.

    In most cases, it’s perfectly legal for an MD to prescribe an approved drug for an unapproved use. However, there is a section of the US Code (21USC333(e)) that specifically prohibits that for hGH.

  4. #4 Kelly
    December 20, 2007

    From the (insane) US Code linked by getzal:
    (e) Prohibited distribution of human growth hormone

    (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), whoever knowingly distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute, human growth hormone for any use in humans other than the treatment of a disease or other recognized medical condition, where such use has been authorized by the Secretary of Health and Human Services under section 355 of this title and pursuant to the order of a physician, is guilty of an offense punishable by not more than 5 years in prison, such fines as are authorized by title 18, or both.

  5. #5 jay french
    December 20, 2007

    Wow! quetzal and Kelly’s observations are genuinely informative, but stimulate the question, “Why, of all the drugs out there that a physician is entitled to prescribe for off-label use, has hGH been singled out for this restriction. (I am learning and perhaps it is not the only drug so singled out, but I was always under the impression that any approved drug or even unapproved drug could be prescribed by a licensed physician.) In any case, reflecting on the baseball debacle, the Gladwell blog informs that it is not an anabolic steroid and baseball had not forbidden its use at the time that many of the accused in the Mitchell report made use of hGH. So now I find that a number of years ago when I had some unused Vicodin tablets and a friend who had a recent surgery was in pain, I was illegal to give him several. I am by nature anti-prosecutorial, and in that mode find the Mitchell Report a gross misuse of media power in the way it lumped some eighty-odd ball players together as culpable misusers. I trust that the good Senator was never in the position that I was regarding Vicodin tablets . . . .

  6. #6 Dave Briggs
    December 21, 2007

    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?

    You are right on the mark with this post! I have been on science blogs from all over the world and a hot topic right now is the moral and ethical dilemma posed by cognition enhancing drugs. The discussion has even gotten to the point where we are into the qualitative and quantitative stage of discussing is coffee OK and if so, is too much not OK?
    I think we need to get used to these kids of topics because the entire 21st century is going to full of them.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  7. #7 jay french
    December 21, 2007

    So, as a more or less beginning blogger, I offered up an opinion about hGH and the baseball “scandal” and the Mitchell Report. Then I dug a little deeper. Mitchell says that estimates of use of “performance enhancing drugs” (in which class he places hGH without clinical evidence insofar as I can see) in baseball varied from as high as 50% to 30% or somewhat less. But you get the drift that 20% would not be an unlikely low ball estimate even in his mind. And this was for a time period in excess of twenty years! Then the good Senator comes forward and names about eighty individuals as “users” lumping the hGH users with the users of anabolic steroids and Lord knows what else he regarded as “performance enhancing.” Some of these individuals, he goes on to report, received prescriptions from licensed but inferentially disreputable physicians who in SOME cases never even examined the player to whom the substances were eventually delivered. Wait a minute . . . some of these guys may have actually had prescriptions for these substances dated from a time before these drugs were banned by baseball and they are still being named??

    So we now have the names of some minor percentage players over the last 20-25 years who were given up by individuals under prosecution who are trying to improve their lot. This gives the news-hungry sport writers the license to sanctimoniously call for barricading the doors to Cooperstown. Those same individuals will laud some middle linebacker as a”gamer” when he plays this weekend shot up with painkillers and who knows what else. The entire scenario is pitiful.

    Pardon me, but I have to get back to my reading. Almost finished with Kerouac’s “On the Road” and intend to read a little Hunter Thompson after that.

    By the way, I just found an article in the Daily Standard by a writer named Dean Barrett. Mr Barrett posted a story today in which he observes “George Mitchell could have produced a fair report, but the results wouldn’t have been as satisfying or sensational . . . . Senator Mitchell should be ashamed and embarrassed about his work product.” Bravo, Mr. Barrett. Maybe the drug Mitchell is addicted to is non-prescription and known as limelight.

  8. #8 BSL
    December 26, 2007

    This whole thing always remindes me of this 2004 article from Outside magazine in which a writer and amateur cyclist decides — in response to doping scandals in cycling — to go down that path and see just what the rewards are.

  9. #9 jay french
    January 4, 2008

    So now with Pakistan teetering, Iraq continuing as highly problematic at best, recession looming, and Britney Spears losing custody, our Congress wants to hear from Roger, Andy and the alleged hGH administering crew about stuff that happened years ago. I am convinced that headlines are the most addictive and most destructive drug.

  10. #10 Jenny
    January 16, 2008

    I am very much thankful for the information. In case of emergency even a small thing may do a big work and for . I completely agree with Dave Briggs. I know about a site where all hgh online products are placed.

  11. #11 hgh
    March 18, 2008

    I am a physician who works in Emergency Departments and I have never seen a study saying HGH helps heal an injury. Does anyone know of any? there are many studies

  12. The search for the “21st century HGH” continues unabated and in fact more enterprisingly today, as various pills and potions promise to extend youth and heal the damage of age.

  13. #14 HGH spray
    August 23, 2010

    HGH spray can be very helpful for body building. They also have all other types of uses too. There can be some different side effects, so I’d be sure to consult a doctor before using it.

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