AT least a dozen young persons aged 20 to 30 years are suspected to have died of heart attack in Goa in the last few years as a result of using chemicals such as growth hormones or steroids for body growth. Use of growth hormones and steroids has been not uncommon among athletes engaged in competitive sports and Hollywood actors desperate to keep looking young. In the US expensive injections of growth hormone are offered by many practitioners, even though the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has not approved its use for anti-ageing, body building or athletic enhancement. Marketing or distribution of growth hormone for any of these purposes is illegal in the US. However, according to unofficial estimates, 50,000 to 100,000 Americans use growth hormone without a valid prescription. Despite being banned by the International Olympic Committee and many sports organisations, growth hormone abuse has continued in many sports, such as baseball, cycling, and track and field.
Where are the young persons getting the growth hormones in Goa? Who is marketing and distributing the hormones in the state? Did the young persons who died of cardiac diseases at the GMC owing to use of growth hormone abuse get it on a valid prescription from licensed doctors? Are the owners of gyms posing as ‘doctors’ prescribing growth hormones and posing as retailers also selling ‘medication’ for it to people as a recommendation for building muscles and enhancing youthfulness? These are dark areas the regulating agency of the state government, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) must start invading in order to now prevent illegal trade and illegitimate prescription. FDA teams must carry out surprise raids on the gyms to check if they were stocking and selling growth hormone and steroid medications.
Growth hormones do have therapeutic use. So it is available as a prescription drug. However, its use is prescribed for people suffering from ‘growth hormone deficiency’. Growth hormone (GH) is a small protein that is made by the pituitary gland and secreted into the bloodstream. GH production is controlled by a complex set of hormones produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and in the intestinal tract and pancreas. GH production rises during childhood, peaks during puberty and declines from middle age onward. In children and adolescents, it stimulates the growth of bone and cartilage. GH is prescribed for children with GH deficiency or persons with very short stature. It is also approved to treat adult GH deficiency, which is an uncommon condition and usually develops in conjunction with major problems afflicting the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, or both. Adults with bona fide GH deficiencies benefit from GH medication. They enjoy protection from fractures, increased muscle mass, improved exercise capacity and energy, and a reduced risk of future heart disease.
But the contrary might happen to people who take GH even though they do not suffer from any GH deficiency. The twelve Goan youth whose fatal diseases were traced back to GH use were in an age in which GH levels rise naturally, increasing muscle mass and giving more energy. They became victims of GH over-abuse. The abuse deposited more fat or lipid in the coronary arteries causing blockage of flow of blood through them eventually leading to heart attack. GH abuse is also known to increase risks of cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Perhaps the GMC needs to make a study also of the possible linkage between hormone and steroid abuse and diseases other than those related to heart.
While we worry about youth, we should also keep our eyes wide open for GH abuse among older persons. GH abuse is more common among middle-aged persons who feel desperate to find the “fountain of youth” through any medication that anyone can offer. Private and government doctors in Goa must work in cooperation with the state health department and FDA to prevent GH abuse for anti-ageing in the state. They must be on hunt for ‘experts’ who might be selling GH medication as a ‘rejuvenating force’ and claiming “If you take it you will have the energy and vibrancy of a person half your age. You won’t get sick and won’t feel tired even after a full day of activity.” Awareness also needs to be increased among Goa’s young and old that there is a price to pay if they take GH medication. Apart from increasing risks of cancer and diabetes, GH abuse can cause joint and muscle pain, hand pain and numbness and high blood sugar levels.