There is an interesting piece in Slate today (it ran in the Washington Post over the weekend) on the differences between HGH and steroids, and whether or not we should bother worrying about HGH at all.

HGH -- not steroidsThe author, Daniel Engber, says that using HGH isn’t a very big deal, mostly because HGH hasn’t been proven to enhance performance. From Slate:

At the very least, treatment with HGH does seem to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass. Growth hormone may not lengthen your lifespan, but it can certainly improve your looks. (While HGH isn’t as bad for you as anabolic steroids, it does have some minor side effects.

That doesn’t mean very much for athletes: A chiseled physique won’t help you hit a baseball or throw a punch. 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.

So why, if HGH doesn’t make you a better player, do guys risk their paychecks and reputations using it? Engber says, like not stepping on the baseline and not talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter, it boils down to superstition:

The most likely reason that athletes use HGH, though, is superstition. A ballplayer might shoot up with HGH for the same reason we take vitamin C when we have a cold: There’s no good reason to think it does anything, but we’re willing to give it a try. The fact that the major sports leagues have banned growth hormone only encourages the idea that the drug has tangible benefits. Why would they ban something unless it worked?Gary Matthews, Jr. has been accused of using HGH

I don’t know if I agree with Engber’s suggestion that superstition leads players to use HGH. But I do think that players are eager to try anything that will make them faster, stronger and healthier. And I don’t think they spend a lot of time sitting around reading labels or scientific journals.

. J.D. Drew’s explanation for why he spends an hour before game in an oxygen chamber:

To be quite honest with you, I just know it works. I don’t know quite how it works, but it works.

Exhibit B. Gary Sheffield’s reasoning for why the cream he got from BALCO couldn’t possibly have been tainted with steroids:

I know they weren’t tainted. Tell me how rubbing something on me will make you feel any different? That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard.

Long story short, just because using HGH doesn’t seem like a smart move, doesn’t mean that there aren’t a ton of guys doing it. The question is, should we care?

7 Responses to “Does HGH work?”

  1. Alejandro Leal says:

    My, the wonders of professional photography…

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    It’s true that the main effect of HGH isn’t boosting muscle mass (although it probably does let you lift weights longer without getting as tired). Rather, HGH helps athletes recover from injuries faster and avoid certain types of injuries.

    Although I haven’t read the whole thing, this Slate article sounds idiotic to me. Of course we should worry about HGH use! Even if HGH isn’t necessarily making players faster or stronger, if it’s giving players other kinds of competitive advantages such as healing faster and pressure is put on nonusers to start using a drug that has potential health hazards, that is something we need to be worrying about.

    Slate is just being needlessly controversial and plain irresponsible by running this kind of article.

  3. Coley Ward says:

    Nick, in all fairness, the Washington Post ran this story first, so let’s not heap all the criticism on Slate.

    Also, as the article points out, there health risks associated with HGH are speculative, at best. Here’s what the story says about negative side effects:

    “Growth hormone therapy can lead to fluid retention, which in turn causes swelling in the extremities, joint pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Some researchers think any increase in lean body mass comes from extra water rather than muscle growth.) It can also produce the symptoms of diabetes. But all of these side effects go away when you stop using the drug.

    There’s some evidence that HGH can cause cancer in lab rats, but no one has proven that the same risk exists for humans on hormone replacement therapy. Patients with acromegaly—i.e., those who naturally produce too much growth hormone—are at higher risk for certain types of cancer.”

    So here’s my question: If the worst thing that HGH does is cause carpal tunnel syndrome, why are we banning it? Should it be wrong to take a drug that will speed up recovery time?

  4. Nick Kapur says:

    Well, my understanding of HGH is admitedly limited, but as far as I know, the proven side effects of HGH use include:

    – excessive retention of fluids

    – joint pain

    – carpal tunnel

    – hypertension

    – diabetes-like metabolic imbalance

    These side effects appear even in clinical use of HGH (we’re talking very small doses). Chronic use of larger doses is not very well studied, but some side effects which have been found for larger doses include:

    – gynecomastia (enlargement of the male breasts)

    – enlargement of the testicles

    – excessive increases in bone mass (ie Barry Bonds’ huge head)

    Moreover, children who had to take large amounts of HGH for growth deficiencies have higher rates of certain kinds of cancer.

    That is starting to get into some scary stuff, and it is important to recognize that long-term studies pretty much don’t exist yet at this point, so there are probably other effects of prolonged use which we don’t know about yet.

    When we are talking about whether we should be worrying about HGH, it seems clear to me that we should at least worry. What I really feel uncomfortable with is the undue pressure put on non-users to start using something we don’t understand yet, just to keep up with the Joneses (Andruw? Chipper?).

    Even if there is a chance that HGH is not a big deal, players shouldn’t be forced to take the risk that it is.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    Back to the Slate-bashing, please.

    The WaPo owns Slate. By owning them, they get to run versions of certain stories in the paper, before they run on Slate.

    But the writers are still all Slate writers. And Slate’s credo is always to debunk, always to go against the conventional wisdom, always to play the contrarian. After a while, it does begin to grate. Who knows what they’ll write next. “Bush actually one of five best presidents ever” or “Mom was wrong: Broccoli is bad for you.” Honestly, some things just don’t need to be debunked.

    And as far as HGH is concerned, I say if it feels like cheating, it probably is. And weird, untested, creepy drugs that the league has decided are cheating? Those are probably bad. Not going to make a great article for Slate, but true all the same.

  6. Are you freakin’ nuts? She is the ugliest thing I’ve seen in a long time…Why Piazza wastes his time on that hussy I have no idea

  7. Judina Leasco says:

    ha ha ur my hero

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