The use of dietary supplements is common. The 1999 to 2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that well over 52 percent of athletes in the United States take at least one dietary supplement daily. Although, in my opinion, supplementation can play a beneficial role in improving performance, it can also compromise an athlete's health if used inappropriately. There is a growing demand for the use of supplements that rapidly increase strength, muscle mass and bone mass, particularly in sporting pursuits such as weight lifting and body building. One common supplement used is Human Growth Hormone (hGH). Human Growth Hormone is naturally secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain, released in increasing amounts throughout childhood and adolescents, and decreasing thereafter. Growth hormone is anabolic in its behaviour and may increase bone mass and muscle mass, primarily through the production of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Hence given the potential gains in muscle and bone mass, synthetic hGH is being used as a means to enhance performance. However, there are a number of implications in doing so.
In adults that have closed physes, an excess of growth hormone causes acromegaly. A feature of acromegaly is an increase in muscle volume and lean body mass, but no increase in strength (you will actually become extremely weak). Moreover, there are no studies that clearly show that growth hormone in healthy adults has an effect on protein synthesis, body composition and strengthen. Chronic growth hormone use can also cause fluid accumulation, leading to arthralgias, carpal tunnel syndrome, and pseudotumour cerebri. Other effects include, increased rates of cardiovascular disease, abnormal lipid metabolism, breast and colorectal cancer and insulin resistance.
The method of administration of growth hormone is via injection. Pharmaceutical grade growth hormone is produced through recombinant technology, but if obtained on the black market, it may be cadaveric pituitary growth hormone, which carries the risk of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (a fatal neurological brain disease).
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