Jan 29, 2015
HGH Proves Potent

By Kyle Garratt

A new study shows that Human Growth Hormone (HGH) likely does what most think it does–improve athletic performance. Long suspected of giving athletes an unfair advantage, HGH has been banned by many athletic organizations, including the NCAA and IOC. But it had not been shown to enhance athletic performance in any clinical study, until now.

The Fast Get Faster

The study, performed by a team of Australian doctors and funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), showed that HGH improved sprint capacity in both male and female subjects. Men in the study who combined HGH with testosterone saw an even larger jump in sprinting performance.

“This is helpful in showing those skeptics out there who say it doesn’t help performance that they’re wrong,” David Howman, Director General of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, told the Los Angeles Times. “They should wake up and see they should be putting a lot more effort into detection of this substance.”

The eight-week study put 96 healthy, recreational athletes through physical examinations, laboratory evaluations, and performance tests. They received either HGH, HGH and testosterone, or a placebo injection. Those receiving HGH showed a 3.9 percent increase in sprint capacity over the placebo group.

Lead author Dr. Kenneth Ho, of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia, said the 3.9 percent improvement would decrease a 10-second 100-meter sprint time by 0.4 seconds. In the 2008 Olympics, the difference between the men’s first and third place finishers in the 100-meter dash was 0.22. Ho also said the improved sprint capacity could shave 1.2 seconds off a 30-second time in the 50-meter swim.

Male participants receiving HGH and testosterone saw an average 8.3 percent increase in sprint capacity. Athletes in the study also took less HGH and testosterone than competitive athletes are believed to use.

“We think the real effects of growth hormone are, or could be, far greater than what’s reported in our paper,” Ho told the Los Angeles Times. “Equally, the side effects could be much more serious.”

What it Means

While seemingly affirming what many thought about HGH, the study is not without it’s flaws. Dr. Don Catlin, who ran the anti-doping labs at the Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City Olympics, believes the study should have been performed on elite athletes to determine it’s real-world effects.

“The proper study of athletes is top level athletes,” Catlin told the Associated Press. “Those are the ones you want to see because those are the ones who are taking the damn stuff. You can’t compare these kind of athletes to NFL football players.”

Others worry the study will show athletes they can improve performance with amounts of HGH or testosterone too small to be detected.

“I think this is good science, but it underscores the problems that we all deal with in trying to control this,” Dr. Gary Wadler, chair of the committee that compiles WADA’s prohibited list, told the Associated Press. “I’m always afraid to say this because people will say ‘Aha! I never thought of that one.'”

While many studies have shown that HGH increases muscles mass and decreases body fat, this recent study is the outlier in revealing its impact on performance. One 2008 systematic review analyzed 27 studies on HGH effects and found no scientific evidence supporting the claim that HGH enhances athletic performance and may worsen exercise capacity.

Push for Testing

The Australian study, as well as a United Kingdom rugby player becoming the first professional athlete to test positive for HGH, should strengthen the case for increased testing. The player was caught by a test before the season, a practice scientists believe would help detect athletes abusing the hormone.

HGH only shows up in blood tests a day or two after taking it, so athletes can typically take it weeks before competition and not be caught by in-season testing. More labs capable of testing for HGH and an increase in mobile tests could help reverse this trend.

“We strongly believe that it’s best to do it out of competition, when there is no notice,” Howman told The New York Times.

Kyle Garratt is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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