TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – In light of the recent Sports Illustrated story that links the Alabama football team with the supplement company S.W.A.T.S (Solutions with Alternatives to Steroids), relative to the controversial supplement of deer antler spray, it brings up an interesting topic in terms of what exactly is illegal in sports and what should be illegal.
Deer Antler spray contains the hormone IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor-1) which contains a hormone that helps aid in muscle-building and recovery. Chris Key, one of the owners of the company S.W.A.T.S, explains the supplement:
“You’re familiar with HGH, correct? It’s converted in the liver to IGF-1. IGF-1, or -insulin-like growth factor, is a natural, anabolic hormone that stimulates muscle growth. We have deer that we harvest out of New Zealand. Their antlers are the fastest-growing substance on planet Earth . . . because of the high concentration of IGF-1.”
Because deer antler spray contains IGF-1, it is illegal for pro and college athletes to use because it has been deemed a banned substance by both the NCAA and by every major pro league.
This is where the question of what is illegal and what should be illegal becomes an issue.
A new therapy called Regenokine, in which the patient’s own tissues are extracted, carefully manipulated, and then reintroduced to the body has become a very popular therapy for professional athletes.
Athletes can now treat their ailing joints with platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy, in which blood is spun until it contains a high concentration of healing platelets, to concentrated bone marrow injections, dense with stem cells.
The procedure begins with the removal of a small cup of blood from a patient, which is then incubated at a slightly elevated temperature. (The goal is to give the blood a fever.) The liquid is then spun in a centrifuge until it’s separated into its constituent parts. The heavy red blood cells accumulate in the bottom layer, a layer of crimson crud at the bottom of the plastic tube. The relevant fluid is the middle yellowish layer — it looks like viscous urine — which is dense with agents that, at least in theory, can accelerate the natural healing mechanisms of the body.
According to a report by Grantland.com, Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and other athletes travel to Germany for their biologic treatments that involves a vague FDA regulation that mandates that all human tissues (such as blood and bone marrow) can only be “minimally manipulated,” or else they are classified as a drug and subject to much stricter governmental regulations. The problem, of course, is figuring out what “minimal” means in the context of biologics. Can the blood be heated to a higher temperature, as with Regenokine? Spun in a centrifuge? Can certain proteins be filtered out? Nobody knows the answer to these questions, and most American doctors are unwilling to risk the ire of regulators.
Furthermore, there are no rules in the NBA, MLB or NFL that disallows such measures.
Point being, why is IGF-1 illegal when platelet rich plasma therapy is legal? That’s not to say IGF-1 should be legal, but why is PRP therapy legal?
Furthermore, the NFL bans HGH (human growth hormone) among a long list of banned substances. However, the NFL does not test for HGH.
Over the summer, The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith calling on them to begin testing for human growth hormone (HGH).
Part of the letter stated:
Despite occasional suggestions in the media that progress is being made, the optimistic reports are difficult to believe when the Players Association continues to publicly challenge the efficacy of the test itself. These challenges are inexplicable because the blood test for HGH has been in use for almost a decade. Today it is used by numerous domestic and international leagues and sports associations, including the Olympic Games and Major League Baseball.
Without HGH testing, the performance enchanting drug provisions in your collective bargaining agreement will not be able to effectively deter the use of this drug. And this failure sends a terrible message to young athletes and fans that player safety and a level playing field are not priorities.
Ultimately, how can one regulate if a pro athlete is taking a banned substance if there is no testing for the banned substance in the first place? Plus, why are some substances, therapies and treatments deemed illegal, while others are perfectly fine?
The problem will only continue until there is Olympic-style testing in every league for every type of drug or supplement. Moreover, PRP therapy and newfound “biologics” ultimately may have their place. But further testing should be done first, while procedures such as these should be regulated by an independent committee.
Until then, stories like these will continue to surface and athletes will be pushing their bodies to the limit to gain the smallest of edges in performance. Let’s hope this ends sooner rather than later.