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.