Thu, Jul 15, 2010 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE : Body builders face dangers with growth hormones use


Harry (not his real name), 27, a marketing executive from north London, is a keen sportsman and bodybuilder. He spent hours in the gym and poring over health pages for muscle-boosting tips. Yet he grew frustrated when his muscle growth appeared to plateau. While many bodybuilders turn to steroids (about 250,000 people are thought to use them in the UK), Harry was deterred by the side-effects, which can include mental health damage. Instead, like an increasing number of gym users, he turned to Kigtropin.

A brand name for synthetically produced human growth hormone, Kigtropin is used to replace the naturally produced hormones in the pituitary gland, which slow down as we leave our teens. It was once an expensive niche drug costing thousands of dollars a dose, but is now becoming more common in high street gyms across the UK. In 2007, Sylvester Stallone was ordered to pay £5,400 (US$8,215) in fines and costs by a court in Australia for possession of growth hormone. This year, Tiger Woods’s former doctor Anthony Galea was charged with possession of growth hormone and administering it to clients.

Now, thanks to cheap supplies available on the Internet (mainly from China), Kigtropin has hit the mainstream. In Bristol, southwest England, bosses at a branch of Fitness First gyms had to install needle bins earlier this year because so many members were leaving syringes lying around.

A spokesman for Fitness First said the gym did not tolerate the use of drugs and was “increasing monitoring procedures to identify any unacceptable or illegal behavior.”

But for Harry, the drug seemed the perfect solution.

“I have always wanted to be much bigger. I went to a sport-­playing school and always felt smaller than the other guys. What I had heard about growth hormone was unbelievable. Being in a gym where people take it, you assume everyone is at it,” he said.

He began taking the hormone for 18 months in cycles — three months on it, one month off — and was thrilled by the results.

“I can lift more, my muscles feel harder, I have increased energy and I don’t have the paranoia or ’roid rage [the anger brought on by steroid abuse] I might have had with steroids. I tore my Achilles tendon playing rugby last year. The doctor said I would be out for nine months, but my tendon healed within three and I was back playing within four months. I think that had a lot to do with what I was taking,” he said.

Michael Graham, senior lecturer in substance misuse at Newman University College, Birmingham, said: “Growth hormone has extremely therapeutic benefits. It is prescribed privately by Harley Street clinicians who assist in anti-aging, but it also can enhance muscle growth and promote weight loss by preventing carbohydrate from being turned into fat.”

“I have carried out a study which showed that human growth hormone increased muscle mass in steroid users whose muscle growth had flattened out. Also, it has been shown to increase cartilage growth and repair — there is no shadow of a doubt that users will have an increased healing rate,” he said.

Yet doctors warn that growth hormones are illegal without a licence — those found supplying them can face 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Even more worryingly, users of the hormone could be dicing with death. Nearly all of the Kigtropin entering this country is smuggled in or bought online with no control or guidance on how to take it.

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