Comparing Human Growth Hormone, Steroids Human growth hormone has been in the news recently because of the Mitchell Report on doping in Major League Baseball. HGH is one of the illegal substances used by baseball players, but it sometimes gets lumped together with steroids. Pediatric endocrinologist Alan Rogol explains how the drug can help and or harm athletes.

Comparing Human Growth Hormone, Steroids

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We've heard a lot in the past week about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. Human growth hormone or HGH is often lumped in with anabolic steroids, and both figure prominently in the recent Mitchell Report. Now, some athletes and their agents are making a distinction between the substances, defending the past use of HGH as a way to treat injuries.

For more, we turn to Alan Rogol. He is a pediatric endocrinologist, and he joins us from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Rogol.

Dr. ALAN ROGOL (Pediatric Endocrinologist; Chief, Division of Endocrinology, University of Virginia): Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And first, why don't you explain for us what HGH is?

Dr. ROGOL: HGH is a protein hormone, and as you might expect from its name, it's the thing that makes kids grow. You would wonder why an adult would need that stuff because the adult supposedly has grown, but it has many more effects on the metabolism of protein and fat and carbohydrate, and so it's really a metabolic hormone in the adult and it is a growth and metabolic hormone in children.

BLOCK: Now, would doctors have a reason to prescribe HGH to help recover from injury?

Dr. ROGOL: It is one of the things that is thought to be correct. It is not an approved indication. There are really only two approved indications in the adult for human growth hormone. One would be growth hormone deficiency; that shouldn't be much of a surprise. And the other is the wasting of HIV/AIDS. And so to help them to lay down tissue, one might give that; that is an approved indication. There are no others for adults; in children, there are obviously others because they are still growing.

BLOCK: Hmm. One of the players named in the Mitchell Report, this s the pitcher Andy Pettitte said that he had used human growth hormone to promote healing for his elbow. He'd heard it could heal faster, and he said he got two days worth of treatments of human growth hormone and then stopped. Would there be any reason or any scientific basis for him to think that HGH would help his elbow heal faster?

Dr. ROGOL: I'm not sure there's a scientific basis. There is certainly a theoretical basis. And that is the issue of growth hormone being a tissue promoting hormone, and so you are anabolic or laying down tissue and also anti-catabolic, that word catabolic means tissue breakdown. So you are preventing tissue breakdown and promoting tissue healing. It makes sense to me that one might do that, there are clearly no data that show that, and to use it for only two days absolutely doesn't make sense. This would be probably week's worth that would help promote healing if that's what it did. And it is not an indication approved for the use of HGH in adults.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about a distinction that's being drawn by the sports agent Scott Boris. Over the weekend, he told the New York Times this, he said, prior to 2005, a doctor had the ability to prescribe HGH for recovery from injury to link players who used anabolic steroids for performance enhancement with players that allegedly used HGH prior to 2005 is wrong. Those drugs are from two different arenas. Do you think he has a point there?

Dr. ROGOL: Well the drugs are from two different arenas, there's nor question about that. And just because a drug is not approved by the FDA for a specific indication but is for another indication, a physician could or can prescribe it. So it wouldn't be out of the realm of what a physician could do, it's just not something that I and the vast majority of my colleagues would do.

BLOCK: Dr. Rogol, do you see the same problem with HGH that you would say is the case for steroids with athletics, in other words, that it's being used to pumped people up, make them stronger than they really are?

Dr. ROGOL: Ah, that's a very difficult question. We are reasonably certain that that's what steroids can do especially in very high doses. I'm not sure we know enough about growth hormone, what its effects would be long term. It's all theoretical. Could it help? Yes. Do we know that it helps? Absolutely not.

BLOCK: Dr. Rogol, thanks very much.

Dr. ROGOL: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: That's pediatric endocrinologist Alan Rogol. He teaches at the University of Virginia and Indiana University's School of Medicine.

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