All of the hGH
produced and distributed by the NHPP goes to children who need it. There are
two other sources for hGH sold in the U.S.—Italy and Sweden—but because
supplies from those countries are also limited, athletes are, in effect,
competing with children for the substance.
In a recent
letter to the editor of Flex, a bodybuilding magazine, Dr. Louis E. Underwood,
a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of North Carolina and an expert
in hGH physiology and pharmacology, addressed this issue in responding to an
article by Dr. Robert F. Kerr, a California physician (The Steroid Predicament,
SI, Aug. 1, 1983). Kerr wrote that he had prescribed hGH for hundreds of
athletes—and claimed there had been no harmful side effects. Wrote Underwood:
"Every unit of Growth Hormone used by bodybuilders denies a short,
growth-hormone deficient child the chance to achieve normal growth and an
acceptable adult height.... I personally am appalled to learn that Dr. Kerr has
supervised the use of growth hormone in 150 bodybuilders."
astonished when several bodybuilders, who had misread his comments in the
magazine, phoned him asking for help in getting hGH for themselves. "Such
selfish stupidity," he says, "is no doubt responsible for the fact that
I now have 40 children in my care who need hGH and can't get it."
share Underwood's concern, and his opposition to the use of hGH by normal
adults and children. They do seem to agree, however, with Taylor's assessment
that hGH has the capacity to significantly increase height, even in normal
children. But at what price, the endocrinologists wonder, aware as they are of
the horrific side effects that can occur when there is a natural oversupply of
the body's human growth hormone.
One of these side
effects in adults is acromegaly, a condition described in Death in the Locker
Room by Bob Goldman with Patricia Bush and Dr. Ronald Katz: "The bones of
the feet, hands, fingers, nose and jaw grow, along with the soft tissue of the
face—the nose, lips, nasolabial folds, forehead and tongue—[which] increase in
size to give one a Frankenstein look.... Later on, osteoarthritis and
limitation of joint range or motion occur. The increased growth hormone [also]
causes the heart to enlarge so that congestive heart failure may occur."
All seven endocrinologists interviewed for this article agreed that the
symptoms of acromegaly, which also include a predisposition to sugar diabetes,
could theoretically be produced by injecting large amounts of hGH over a period
of time into an otherwise normal child.
naturally produced growth hormone in children can also cause
gigantism—development to abnormally large size. Because of recently devised
treatments to eliminate the most frequent cause of excess GH, a tumor within
the pituitary gland, gigantism and acromegaly are seldom seen today. One thing
is indeed clear from the medical literature: Both acromegalics and pituitary
giants, for a variety of complicated and incompletely understood reasons, don't
live as long as normal people.
In view of the
potential dangers, why has hGH become so popular? The best explanation seems to
be the publicity it has received by word of mouth and from bodybuilding
magazines such as Muscle Digest and Muscle & Fitness, which have published
articles by hGH apologists like Kerr. Imagine the effect on a muscle-hungry
youngster of such comments from Kerr as, "[hGH produces] greatly enhanced
gains, beyond what you would expect to achieve using anabolic steroids.... I
have seen increases of as much as 40 pounds in a six-week period, but with a
reduction of body fat at the same time."
that has added to the appeal of hGH is the boosterism, beginning with its
publication in 1981, of the small but influential Underground Steroid Handbook.
The publisher-editor, Dan Duchaine, reveals in his definition of hGH the
far-out mind-set shared by many young athletes: "Wow, this is great stuff.
It is the best drug for permanent muscle gains. It...makes your whole body
grow.... This is the only drug that can remedy bad genetics, as it will make
anybody grow. A few side effects can occur, however. It may elongate your chin,
feet, and hands, but this is arrested with cessation of the drug. Diabetes in
teenagers is possible with it.... Massive increases in weight over such a short
time can, of course, give you heart problems.... GH use is the biggest gamble
that an athlete can take, as the side effects are irreversible. Even with all
that, we LOVE the stuff."
claims flashed like summer lightning along the iron grapevine, and among
world-class athletes—many of whom, regardless of their sport, train with
weights and thus have contact with the more extreme advocates of drug use and
who began to view hGH as a way around increasingly sophisticated drug testing.
Because there is no adequate test for detecting hGH, it isn't on the
International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances. This, of course,
has only added to the bullishness of the hGH market, and the people who supply
it to athletes have become avid for more.
In August a large
quantity of hGH was stolen from the Children's Hospital in Montreal—714
bottles, with a street value of as much as $160,000. Twenty-five children were
thereby in danger of going without the critical substance for a year.
Fortunately, the crisis was averted.