Can HGH really boost athletic performance?

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- The Super Bowl wrapped up another season with the NFL and the players still trying to hammer out details for testing for HGH, human growth hormone. It's banned as a performance enhancing drug. It's also one of the drugs Yankees' Alex Rodriguez is accused of using that led to his season-long suspension. He has appealed.

HGH is produced in the pituitary gland and provides our growth spurt during puberty. Sometimes injections of synthetic HGH are necessary when there is a brain tumor and part of the pituitary is removed during surgery, also for growth problems.

Eighteen-year-old Mark Elliott Goldstein of Florissant takes injections because he has an underdeveloped pituitary. His mother is 5-feet tall and his father is 5'6", so they thought he was just not going to be very tall. But when he fell off the growth charts, they had tests done that found the problem. Mark has been taking growth hormone shots, once a day, six days a week for four years. He has grown 6 or 7 inches and now stands at 5’8”. Without it, doctors estimate he would have grown to about 5’1”. Mark expects he will have to take the injections another year or so as he heads off to college to play soccer.

But does HGH really enhance athletic performance. Dr. Kevin Yarasheski of Washington University has done studies on the hormone. He compared ordinary people who exercised, with others who exercised and used HGH. He says he found little difference between the two groups as with regard to muscle strength, size, bulk and growth rate.

However, he does feel the drug can give a performance boost to superior athletes at the pro or Olympic level, those levels where an inch or a hundredth of a second, can be the difference between winning and losing.

Dr. Yarasheski says there are good ways to measure and test for those using synthetic growth hormone and detect cheaters. Researchers know what the normal levels of HGH should be in the body and higher levels indicate hormone from other sources, basically the bottle. He says the biggest challenges to testers are the rogue labs that are producing designer drugs from strange compounds that cannot be detected.

Dr. Yarasheski also warns of health risks from using HGH when the body already has normal levels. He says it can cause muscle and joint aches or a condition called carpel tunnel syndrome. It can also cause the body to retain fluid, increase the risk of diabetes and glucose intolerance.

Washington University http://endo.wustl.edu/

Web MD http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/human-growth-hormone-hgh

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