IGF-1 gets no respect

Monday, January 13, 2014

In describing Alex Rodriguez and the use of performance enhancing drugs, presumptive may be appropriately used, since as has been thoroughly noted by him and his spokespersons, he has never failed a drug test. Lance Armstrong also did not fail drug tests for PEDs but presumptive was removed from his status when he confessed to their use.

For Mr. Rodriguez, the battle continues but the specific types of drugs allegedly used are now public, after the Biogenesis files were made available in lawsuit documents. The culprits were testosterone, insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and human growth hormone (HGH), the triumvirate of drugs that can be legally prescribed by a physician to treat a range of medical conditions. They may also be legally prescribed off-label to be used as the patient and physician see fit. The issue for Mr. Rodriguez is that these medications were neither prescribed by a physician nor allowed by his employer. While it is not illegal to have the substances in his body (though not proved by testing), Major League Baseball and its players union have agreed that performance enhancing drugs do not belong on the field of play.

The world has heard about HGH and testosterone, but IGF-1 is a silent partner in performance enhancement. The pituitary gland in the brain produces HGH and released into the blood stream, where it activates the liver to produce IGF-1. It is chemically similar to insulin but has a specific cell receptor that helps promote growth in almost all cells in the body, including muscle and cartilage. People need adequate levels of both HGH and IGF-1 to grow properly; lacking either chemical may be the cause of syndromes associated with short stature. IGF-1 levels in the body peak just after puberty allowing for the teenage growth spurt and fall off with age. HGH is useless unless the liver can produce the active ingredient IGF-1.

IGF-1 is responsible for cell growth and its presence decreases cell aging and death, which is a wonderful thing for growing healthy young people but may cause problems with cells that should die but do not. IGF-1 increases the growth of cancer cells and those who are deficient have a lower rate of cancer.

Pharmaceutical companies had high hopes for IGF-1 to help treat diabetes (it is closely related chemically to insulin), short stature like dwarfism and because of its cell growth properties, burns, Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Unfortunately, research results are mixed and potential side effects are real. There is no indication to treat New York Yankee third basemen.

The law allows Mr. Rodriguez to use performance enhancing medications as prescribed by a physician. Sports organizations worldwide ban their use to help maintain a level playing field and prevent one athlete from obtaining an unfair advantage over another and to prevent potentially lethal side effects. The ban of PEDs also prevents the creep of their use in younger athletes. If PEDs are required to succeed in the pros, then college athletes will use them; high school athletes will then begin abusing the drugs in their hope of getting college scholarships; middle school kids will use drugs to make high school varsity.

Lance Armstrong proved that his chemist was better than those employed by organized sport and he was able to beat the testing process. Alex Rodriguez remains an alleged used of PEDs because he too, has yet to test positive. Perhaps the time has come for pro sports to start drafting PhDs in chemistry.

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