Human growth hormone (HGH) occurs naturally in the pituitary gland and also is available as a synthetic substance with very limited legitimate uses. The synthetic form sometimes is abused by athletes, including bodybuilders, because it increases muscle mass, decreases body fat, and improves performance. Use of HGH for bodybuilding is banned by the International Olympic Committee and not approved for the sport in most jurisdictions. Abusers risk bone and connective tissue problems, heart issues, water retention, and mood changes. Despite these risks, use of HGH in bodybuilders continues because some athletes believe it helps their performance.
A main drawback of HGH for bodybuilding is its illegality as declared by governing sports bodies. The International Olympic Committee, which considers HGH a banned substance, began testing athletes for the growth hormone in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Olympic bodybuilders caught using HGH are disqualified from their events, have medals stripped, and often face sanctions including a ban from future Olympic competitions.
Taking HGH for bodybuilding also poses serious health risks. The hormone is meant to promote growth in children with genetic diseases; as such, bodybuilders who abuse the substance often experience abnormal bone growth over time. This process is known as acromegaly. The bone growth also causes connective tissue overgrowth, leading to disfiguring. Some people describe the acromegaly effect as creating a “caveman” because the process causes severely protruding jaws and eyebrows.
Bodybuilders who abuse HGH also risk serious cardiovascular problems. The hormone can cause irregular heartbeat and even an enlarged heart, which can be a permanent and deadly side effect. Enlarged hearts may lead to strokes or congestive heart failure.
In addition, HGH for bodybuilding further puts users at risk for other medical complications that may not be deadly, but are harmful to physical and mental health. It may cause water retention, for example, which requires the bodybuilder’s kidneys to work overtime and leads to high blood pressure. High HGH levels also have been linked to joint swelling and pain. Additionally, mood changes are common among abusers of HGH, similar to the so-called “‘roid rage” effect of steroids.
Some bodybuilders are willing to chance these hazards of HGH to gain benefits from the hormone. Used as a bodybuilding supplement, HGH can help athletes increase their muscle mass in a relatively short time. The hormone also helps decrease body mass, making the bodybuilder stronger overall in the short term. These combined effects help bodybuilders perform better and may help them win more competitions.