Among the glowing benefits of human growth hormone is its ability to help a person build lean body mass, boost energy levels and promote endurance. These are also the main reasons why many athletes are attracted to HGH and this has resulted in significant abuse with the aim of enhancing performance. Sport organizations now use different methods for detecting the levels of growth hormone in athletes. A relevant question you might ask is how effective are these HGH testing techniques.
It is not a recent phenomenon when talking about HGH abuse by athletes; this has been going on for many years. Synthetic HGH is often used in conjunction with some performance-enhancing substances to boost their effects. Many sport bodies had long been aware of this and, as a result, banned the use of HGH products by athletes due to its use a doping agent. The World Anti-Doping Agency lists HGH under section 32 of its List of Prohibited Substances and Methods, prohibiting its use by athletes both in and offseason. However, it was largely impossible to enforce bans until the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Naturally produced by the pituitary gland, HGH is secreted into the blood in a pulsatile fashion, leading to highly variable levels in the body. The hormone is prone to wide fluctuations, which may be caused by age, gender, exercise, diet, drugs and environmental factors, among others. It exists as a composite combination of diverse molecular forms, known as isoforms, including the major 22-kDa form and the minor 20-kDa form. The isoforms also exist as aggregates such as dimers and oligomers. The 22-kDa hormone has a short life of about 15 minutes on average.
HGH test is not only useful in identifying cheaters in sports, but also in assessing the general levels in people. It can be used to determine growth hormone levels in children with growth and development issues. When done before period of adolescence, HGH testing helps to make it possible to address deficiency issues when it is still possible to get the best results.
Growth hormone (GH) testing methods can be broadly divided into those that involve use of urine or blood.
Urine tests are the older methods of detecting unusually high levels of HGH in the body. The main advantages of this method include its less invasiveness, cost-friendly nature and fewer adverse effects. But it is very hard to detect growth hormone in urine in that HGH is usually present in very low quantities. HGH levels in urine are typically anywhere between 0.1 and 1.0 percent of those found in the blood.
Blood tests are mostly preferred by the international community for detecting HGH levels, even though they could be rather costly and invasive. The WADA expresses its preference for this sort of tests.
Marker approach – This is an indirect method of detecting recombinant growth hormone (rGH) use. Marker method is aimed at measuring changes in the levels of proteins that are associated with growth hormone rather than gauging recombinant GH itself. These proteins are used as markers of hGH activity. This technique can be used to detect HGH levels by monitoring Insulin-like Growth Factor type 1 (IGF-1) and N-terminal peptide of procollagen type III (P-III-NP) marker levels.
Isoform approach – Known more formally as HGH Isoform Differential Immunoassays, this technique involves direct analysis of growth hormone isoforms circulating within the body. The natural pattern of GH isoforms circulating in the body is altered after an injection of recombinant GH. The Isoform approach is used to assess these changes in the naturally balanced proportions of different HGH isoforms in the blood.
Hormone suppression approach – This blood test in based on the idea that hyperglycemia can serve as a pointer to high HGH levels. Blood sugar levels are assessed and high glucose levels in the blood are taken as an indication of high HGH production. It is believed that growth hormone levels move in the same direction as blood sugar levels.
Urine tests in less reliable due to the facts that growth hormone can only be found in very low quantities and there is insufficient information on excretion of diverse HGH isoforms in urine. Growth hormone has very short half-life as well. This is the reason why greater preference has been given to blood tests, more specifically HGH marker and isoform tests, by researchers and bodies such as WADA in testing for HGH. These tests have been systematically reviewed by experts from different fields, including hGH, endocrinology, pharmacology, immunoassay and analytical chemistry.
The effectiveness of the marker and isoform tests in detecting HGH is greater when they are combined. Recombinant GH can be detected through alterations of isoform proportions for up to 48 hours after administration when employing the isoform test. While the marker test is not really helpful in detecting HGH use during the initial phase of use, it can be very useful for detection at later dates – longer than isoform test is useful.
The use of blood tests for detecting doping with HGH received a major backing from the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in 2013 in the case between the ski federation FIS and Andrus Veerpalu. The court ruled that the isoforms test is scientifically reliable, making it relevant for testing HGH levels in the body of athletes.
The efficacy and reliability of markers test have also been proven in many scientific studies over the years. Placebo-controlled studies on recombinant growth hormone administration in Europe and Australia show that IGF-1 and P-III-NP levels rise significantly after administration depending on the manner of dose. These two markers have been assessed for several confounding factors, including age, gender, exercise, physique and ethnicity, which might have impact on scores of discriminant functions.
In spite of effectiveness of blood tests in detecting HGH use, the number of athletes that have been busted is rather insignificant. Most of these athletes use growth hormone during the offseason and are therefore less likely to be caught when tested during the season. This is why freezing blood serum is advised by the WADA for future testing. Studies have indicated that HGH serum remains stable when frozen under the right conditions.
While the current standard for detecting HGH cheaters is blood test, efforts are being made to also improve the effectiveness of urine tests for similar purpose. Researchers are working to bring in Nanotechnology which will hopefully make urine tests more accurate. The new test is being worked on by researchers at the George Mason University. The technology will help bind and amplify HGH in urine thereby making it easier to detect. When perfected, the new urine test will make it possible to test HGH levels in urine for up to two weeks.
Blood tests such as marker and isoform tests currently offer the best approaches for measuring HGH levels and detecting athletes cheating with the substance. However, the positive cases that have been reported using these tests have been on the low side. Freezing of HGH serum for later testing has been suggested for greater success in catching athletes using growth hormone for performance enhancement. The future urine test based on Nanotechnology will hopefully make it easier to detect HGH cheaters as well.
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