IGF-1 Banned as Performance Enhancer

deer_anler_graphics-270x270The Miami New Times newspaper reported IGF-1 as one of the six performance enhancing drugs given by a South Florida clinic to six baseball players and numerous other athletes.  IGF-1 has also been mentioned in a Sports Illustrated report about football players using deer antler velvet, which has IGF-1.

Most fans don’t know what IGF-1 is, but it has actually been banned for athletic use for many years. It is included in the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances, which includes performance enhancers and human growth hormones.

Insulinlike growth factor-1, or IGF-1, may be too good to be true if its supposed benefits are to be considered. For starters, it can heal tendon injuries while also helping to build muscles in animals. It was also popular among athletes as a human growth hormone which can make a bigger, faster, and stronger athlete. Its benefits also include a reduction of fat and improvement in one’s endurance.

Without IGF-1, growth hormone will not have an effect on muscles and tissues. It responds to growth hormone, which is synthesized in the pituitary gland and travels to the liver, where IGF-1 is eventually produced.

In recent years, deer antler sprays and IGF-1 have been a popular topic among elite athletes. Example is David Vobora, linebacker to St. Louis Rams, who won a $5.4 million judgment for the use of deer antler spray. The case was against Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS), who sold the spray that apparently contained the banned substance. According to the company, the IGF-1 they sell is natural and is considered a raw food, not a synthetic drug. In fact, their website promotes “athletes competing without cheating”.

IGF-1 can also be bought at anti-aging clinics.

Despite the ban for the use of IGF-1 in certain sports, it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children whose bodies cannot produce its normal amount. Below average production of IGF-1 in the body results in the bones not growing sufficiently, which makes the children very short. Ipsen sells the drug that is injected under the skin where it travels from the blood to the bones and stimulates growth.

Meanwhile, Mitch Ross, founder of SWATS, says that long-term effects of the natural IGF-1 has not been tested, but affirms that it is safe. As a warning, he said that “If you abuse it, you could have side effects.”

Even with the absence of a urine test that will detect IGF-1, it can still be easily detected through the use of blood tests, just like a human growth hormone. The marker test, a test used to detect growth hormone, should be able to detect IGF-1 substance abuse. It measures not the hormone, but its effects, such as an increase in tendon repair and healing. Another test, the isoform test, may not pick up IGF-1 because it looks for the exact growth hormone.

Major League Baseball has not decided up until this month on whether there will be an in-season blood testing for human growth hormones.

Doping experts say that the relevance of IGF-1 is out of the question because of the temptation to use performance-enhancing drugs. Charles Yesalis of Penn State says that in sports, being bigger and faster often helps athletes do better.

In theory, IGF-1 can help athletes. However, Dr. Alan Rogol from the Endocrine Society says that no scientific human studies are present to show the actual effects of the substance. What is present are studied done on animals suggesting that IGF-1 induces muscle growth and that injured tendons tend to heal faster.

According to Rogol, both growth hormone and IGF-1 are costly to use. It would cost a child $25000 a year to use it for legitimate reasons, which means that an athlete may spend up to five times that amount considering that they require higher doses. However, considering that professional athletes earn millions yearly, the cost may not be too important.

Former head of UCLA’s Olympic Analytical Lab Don Catlin thinks that using the substance is “just like giving someone human growth hormone” because “it goes to the same kinds of receptors and turns them on.

Considering that there are lags in blood testing and countless sources of the substance, Yesalis wasn’t surprised with IGF-1 making the headlines. “This goes on all the time. My response to this one is kind of a yawn. Drug tests didn’t bust these guys. It’s just business as usual.”


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