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Spotlight on Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Like anabolic steroids, growth hormone is banned by the World- and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the Olympic Committee, and most major and amateur sports leagues.

While steroid use can be detected though a simple urine test, this is not the case with growth hormones.

As a result, it is not at all clear how widespread growth hormone use is among student and professional athletes.

"The estimates have been from just about everyone to almost nobody," U.S. Anti-Doping Agency senior managing director Larry Bowers, PhD, tells WebMD. "We just don't know."

The recent release of the Mitchell Report examining performance-enhancing drug use in major league baseball helped shed some light on the issue.

Many of the players named in the report were accused of using steroids and human growth hormones.

The report concluded that there is little scientific evidence linking growth hormone to improved strength in athletes. It also questions the long-term safety of growth hormone use in healthy, fit people.

"As is the case with steroids, human growth hormone is associated with potentially severe adverse effects," the Mitchell Report noted.

In children and adolescents who are still growing, too much growth hormone can lead to a rare condition called acromegaly, characterized by exaggerated bone growth.

There have also been anecdotes linking synthetic human growth hormones to the development of diabetes, hypertension, and even cancer in adults.

"Athletes who take growth hormones are really rolling the dice," Bowers says. "From my perspective, it is better to err on the side of caution if you don't know what the long-term risks are."

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