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.
The 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?
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?