Few topics stir up more controversy among sports fans than news of professional athletes taking human growth hormone to enhance their performances. The debate over sports stars using the banned substance raises a myriad of legal and ethical issues but rarely touches on the question: Does HGH actually give athletes a physical advantage?
The randomized trial of more than 100 recreational athletes of both sexes was sponsored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (which bans the use of HGH in competitive athletes) and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It found that growth hormone improved sprinting ability by about 4% but not other measures of athletic performance the researchers tracked, such as endurance, strength or power. Men who also got testosterone injections saw an 8% boost in sprinting performance.
The study size was too small to measure the safety of HGH but participants reported minor side effects such as swelling and joint pain. Similarly, a 2008 Stanford study showed that HGH injections increased muscle bulk but not strength in athletes and could could cause muscle fatigue and joint pain.
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