Human growth hormone (hGH) is a polypeptide hormone synthesized and secreted by the anterior pituitary gland which stimulates growth and cell reproduction in humans and other vertebrate animals. In the liver, hGH converts to insulin-like growth factor-1 promoting growth. Secretion levels are highest during puberty and decrease during adulthood and are directly related to aging.
The attempt to synthesize hGH began in the 1930s when Dr. Choh Hao Li, at the University of California's Experimental Biology Laboratory, sought to isolate hormones. In 1971 he successfully synthesized hGH from the pituitary glands of human cadavers. Over his career, Dr. Li isolated and purified 6 out of the 8 known hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. He won many awards and honorary degrees for his breakthroughs, including the Lasker Award, the Nichols Award and Awards from the American Cancer Society and the Endocrine Society.
Doctors used hGH synthesized from humans until it was linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal neurological disorder. The synthetic version of hGH, released in 1985, worked seamlessly with the body’s natural growth hormone. The drug is mostly used to correct stunted growth in children and to treat AIDS wasting.
There are many types of synthetic growth hormones available in the United States including Nutropin (Genentech), Humatrope (Lilly), Genotropin (Pfizer), Norditropin (Novo), Saizen (Serono), and Tev-Tropin (Teva). The products are nearly identical in composition and cost, differing mainly in the formulations and delivery methods.
Human Growth Hormone in Baseball
Human growth hormone became big news in baseball when Jason Grimsley was caught accepting a package of the drug by the IRS. When confronted by the IRS, Grimsley admitted his own use of steroids, hGH and other drugs and named a number of former teammates as users of various performance enhancing drugs (including amphetamines). Perhaps the most telling part of his confession was his admission that he had used only hGH since Major League Baseball instituted its steroid testing program in 2004. He also described a situation where a player, later revealed to be David Segui, acquired growth hormone from a doctor. On ESPN's Outside the Lines, Segui said his doctor deemed him hGH deficient and not only prescribed him the drugs but monitored his levels while he was using it. That a grown man physically strong enough to play Major League Baseball in the first place would require human growth hormone is widely disputed.
While hGH is now banned by MLB, there is still no reliable test.
Jose Canseco sang its praises in Juiced, and included it in his cocktails. It was a BALCO staple as well. Jim Leyritz told the New York Times he sought hGH when recovering from a shoulder injury. Leyritz's hGH use was in 2000 when there was no testing in baseball at all. He used hGH because there was a history of prostate cancer in his family and thought taking anabolic steroids was not worth the risk.
Human Growth Hormone as a Performance-Enhancing Drug
The main attraction to hGH for athletes (aside from the lack of reliable test) is its ability to aid in the recovery and prevention of injuries. Human growth hormone stimulates the synthesis of collagen, which is necessary for strengthening cartilage, bones, tendons and ligaments.
Jason Grimsley used the drug in combination with an anabolic steroid, deca-duabolin, to recover from ligament replacement (Tommy John) surgery after only nine months, half the estimated recovery time for pitchers.
The combination of anabolic steroids and hGH is especially useful and potent. Anabolic steroid use has been associated with increases in the frequency and severity of injuries in baseball. Bud Selig cited such information at the congressional hearings in 2005. Stronger connective tissues developed with hGH not only work better and heal faster, but they are better equipped to house oversized muscles associated with anabolic steroid use, and again prevent injuries.
The performance-enhancing uses for hGH are not limited to injuries. Human growth hormone increases the number of red blood cells, boosts heart function and makes more energy available by stimulating the breakdown of fat. Users have also noted improved eyesight, better sleep and better sex.
Side-Effects of Human Growth Hormone
The side-effects are considered relatively mild, but can be very serious especially in cases of overuse. Inflated levels of hGH in adults can cause acromegaly, a disease characterized by excessive growth of the head, feet and hands. The lips, nose, tongue, jaw and forehead increase in size and the fingers and toes widen and become spade-like. The organs and digestive system may also increase in size, which may eventually cause heart failure. Excessive hGH in adults may also lead to diabetes.