Human growth hormones (HGH) designed to treat growth deficiency are like every other human creation. They were developed for the betterment of mankind, but have become a controversial topic in recent years.
Its hundred-year old history is yet another testimony to how difficult it is to introduce a new product without generating controversy.
History of HGH
HGHs were developed in the wake of the First World War. The concept was explored but not materialized.
Human growth hormones were being researched quietly without much clamor. Initially, animal hormones were extracted but they failed to be effective. Maurice Raben, an endocrinologist from Tuft University discovered the serum to be effective by acquiring the chemicals from the pituitary glands of cadavers.
It took years to be produced and was implemented in the ‘60s for the treatment of short children.
HGHs were prescribed after research discovered that patients were suffering from a deficiency of hormones generated by the pituitary gland, resulting in children with stunted growth.
To tackle this emergence of shortness, children around the world were subjected to the treatment, which consisted of the newly developed HGHs.
The initial results were astounding, and HGHs became popular due to their effectiveness. Thousands of patients were treated and growth hormones were even being prescribed by doctors overseas.
Dangers associated with HGH
It took around 20 years for the first symptoms of trouble to emerge. Because it was a chemical generated by the human body, there were no substitutes, and scientists had to “extract” the chemical from medical cadavers.
Some of the bodies were suffering from a number of diseases which were later passed on with the hormones. The major disease was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which is very similar to Mad Cow Disease and accelerates Alzheimer’s Syndrome.
It usually results in rapid deterioration of neural functions, and causes death within one year of the first symptoms.
About 26 people died in the United States, which led to every single patient to have been treated during the 1960s and 1970s to panic. The situation was further aggravated when a convicted murderer pleaded insanity due to having received HGH treatments as a child.
There were about 7700 children in the USA and 27,000 more worldwide who were subjected to the growth hormone. So in 1985, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) swiftly shut down production and prescription of growth hormones extracted from dead bodies.
Doctors refused to prescribe growth hormones to even the utmost serious cases. The time of growth hormones seemed to be over.
Like all scientific achievements, restricting the process actually helped benefit the world by forcing the scientists to look at more convenient and safe options.
In the very same year, the first artificial human growth hormone was unveiled. Two major corporations – Genentech and Eli Lilly were the forerunners of artificial growth hormone who were already working on producing alternatives to cadaver-derived hormones.
Their research proved invaluable as they succeeded very, very quickly. The artificial growth hormone was developed with genetically engineered bacteria which would produce the hormones when ingested.
This was a very effective way to distribute the hormones.
The FDA approved the artificial HGHs by Genentech in 1991 and the growth hormone market quickly recovered from the disaster.
Further HGH controversies
However, usage of growth hormones in sports became an issue soon after. It is considered to be a detriment to sportsmanship while boosting performance.
Athletes have to undergo drug tests to identify which drugs they have taken, and Potropin (the artificial growth hormone by Genentech) is among the banned drugs. It was highly criticized and eventually banned by many institutions like the Olympics, NCAA, and many other sports organizers.
Footballers, wrestlers, or bodybuilders who use growth hormones are often disqualified or even banned to some extent. The 2012 China Olympics saw the first case of a US athlete being banned from participating because of taking HGHs.
Growth hormones have been identified to cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, nerve/muscle/joint pain, and high cholesterol levels. Regardless, growth hormones still continue to be effective in treating people with growth disorders (mostly deficiency), Turner’s syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and muscle-wasting disease.
The benefits of growth hormones should be acknowledged as loudly as its shortcomings. It is natural for every medicine to have side-effects.
Human growth hormones have come a long way from extracting chemicals from the pituitary glands of cadavers. It is still prescribed to people with growth disorders, especially children who are born small for their gestational age.
Growth hormones are like every other human creation. It is incorrect to state that they have a sinister purpose. How they are utilized depends on the user. People are given a chance at living a better life with the HGH. And yet people squander their chances at living a good life by using human growth hormones in competitive sports and not medical purposes.
It should be regulated, not banned. Only time will tell whether HGHs have benefited mankind or not.