Dr. Kent Sepkowitz questions the negative media reaction to sports stars’ (and wannabes’) use of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for the Daily Beast:
It appears that Major League Baseball is just about ready to give New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez the boot, possibly for life.
Although everything is at the rumor-only stage, accusations persist that A-Rod used human growth hormone, a performance-enhancing drug, obtained from the Biogenesis enterprise formerly headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla.
Setting aside whether Rodriguez is guilty or innocent, it’s fair to ask where all the excitement about HGH comes from, as well as where, in the cosmology of illegal performance-enhancing substances, it sits. First of all, HGH is not a steroid, though the term “steroid” has come to be used interchangeably and incorrectly with PEDs. Steroids and HGH are both hormones—in this one aspect there is a similarity—but steroids are produced by the body to promote sexual differentiation, while HGH is involved in growth and maturation. Male hormones, androgens such as testosterone, make a guy a guy, horny and pimply and restless—and muscular. Jumping higher and running faster are possible as well. It clearly enhances performance, as the beneficiaries of baseball’s last PED scandal, related to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, realized. But not only do anabolic steroids increase athletic performance, they also increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart attack, and any number of bad-news illnesses. Stopping their use was a must.
Compared to ’roids, HGH is a relatively sedate amino acid, something people produce throughout life. Its effects are dramatic when levels are way too high or way too low. A common cause of dwarfism is an inadequate production of HGH. Its medical availability has made the diagnosis rare in countries with resources to diagnose and treat—the cost can run in the thousands of dollars per month. Others who, because of a tumor in the pituitary gland, may overproduce HGH develop a different problem: gigantism. Called acromegaly in medical parlance, it produces tall, gangly people ready for the basketball court, with thick jawbones and too-wide foreheads, as well as teeth that begin to spread apart as the lower jaw spreads. (Be on the lookout for older athletes with braces on their lower teeth.) A list of notable people who may have had acromegaly includes Lurch from The Addams Family, André the Giant, Jaws from the Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, and perhaps Abraham Lincoln…
[continues at the Daily Beast]