Dr. Neil Minkoff: Q&A on HGH

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Dr. Neil Minkoff: Q&A on HGH

By Dr. Neil Minkoff
Special to CSNNE.com

As if there weren't enough issues keeping the NFL owners and the players apart, word has leaked out that the owners consider it essential for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow for blood testing for Human Growth Hormone. The NFL is looking to keep pace with the Olympics, some rugby and soccer leagues and minor-league baseball, all of which have started HGH testing over the past few years. Note that it is only in the minors, where MLB can start testing without consent of the MLB players union. So let's look at what is involved in HGH testing and some of the player concerns . . . besides getting caught.

Whats up with this test?
Testing for HGH is hard. Really hard. So little gets into the urine, we have to use blood. Normal levels can vary from 5 to 50 in the same person on the same day because the body releases the hormone in bursts. So players need random blood draws, which can only be performed after games. Turns out theres a fair number of pro athletes who claim to be too scared of needles to play if their blood is drawn before a game. If the players were really afraid of needles, we wouldnt have this problem in the first place!

Nobody outside the World Anti-Doping Agency knows exactly what the new test does, but it either detects some new subtle finding or looks to see if the HGH level looks right compared to the other hormones in the system. There have been some concerns about whether the test will be able to detect HGH more than 6-12 hours after injection. If thats true, players could switch to bedtime injections and avoid detection.

What is HGH, anyway?
Synthetic growth hormone is a copy of a hormone made in the brain. Sure, its major use is for children to grow to normal height, but that doesnt matter here. What matters is that its used to treat muscle wasting in AIDS patients . . . and thats where our story gets interesting. Docs figured out a long time ago that a hormone that builds muscle in the sick also builds muscle in the well. Jacking HGH works because your body basically stops trying when it comes to HGH in your mid-20s. After the age of 25, you produce HALF as much HGH every 7 years. At 40, youre making one-quarter of the HGH you made at 25. Thats a HUGE difference especially to a pro athlete. According to the Mayo Clinic, HGH shots will build muscle in healthy adults, but traditional exercise works just as well. Im sure thats true for the average person, but HGH will have an extra effect on someone already in great shape.

Why do we care?
HGH can be dangerous when used improperly. Known side effects include joint pain, swollen painful muscles and gynecomastia, which is the medical term for men growing breasts. Pro locker rooms have an unprintable different name for this syndrome. Besides, some muscle mass can be pretty damaging. For example, if the massed-up muscle is your heart, you cant pump blood and you die. HGH is also in the family of hormones that control your metabolism, so theres a theory that use could lead to diabetes.

So how do we fix this?
We can clean this whole thing up in under a year. The WADA, with its partners the International Olympic Committee, the NFL, MLB, FIFA, etc., could call together all of the manufacturers of synthetic HGH and ask them to just add a marker to the inactive part of the HGH molecule. The test would ALWAYS be able to tell synthetic HGH from natural. This would be simple, cheap, totally safe and 100 percent definitive. It would probably require a waiver from the FDA, but the FDA is a political institution, and this is great politics. Just say you're doing it for the children. That always works.

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.