Dr. Neil Minkoff: Q&A on HGH


Dr. Neil Minkoff: Q&A on HGH

By Dr. Neil Minkoff
Special to

As if there weren't enough issues keeping the NFL owners and the players apart, word has leaked out that the owners consider it essential for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow for blood testing for Human Growth Hormone. The NFL is looking to keep pace with the Olympics, some rugby and soccer leagues and minor-league baseball, all of which have started HGH testing over the past few years. Note that it is only in the minors, where MLB can start testing without consent of the MLB players union. So let's look at what is involved in HGH testing and some of the player concerns . . . besides getting caught.

Whats up with this test?
Testing for HGH is hard. Really hard. So little gets into the urine, we have to use blood. Normal levels can vary from 5 to 50 in the same person on the same day because the body releases the hormone in bursts. So players need random blood draws, which can only be performed after games. Turns out theres a fair number of pro athletes who claim to be too scared of needles to play if their blood is drawn before a game. If the players were really afraid of needles, we wouldnt have this problem in the first place!

Nobody outside the World Anti-Doping Agency knows exactly what the new test does, but it either detects some new subtle finding or looks to see if the HGH level looks right compared to the other hormones in the system. There have been some concerns about whether the test will be able to detect HGH more than 6-12 hours after injection. If thats true, players could switch to bedtime injections and avoid detection.

What is HGH, anyway?
Synthetic growth hormone is a copy of a hormone made in the brain. Sure, its major use is for children to grow to normal height, but that doesnt matter here. What matters is that its used to treat muscle wasting in AIDS patients . . . and thats where our story gets interesting. Docs figured out a long time ago that a hormone that builds muscle in the sick also builds muscle in the well. Jacking HGH works because your body basically stops trying when it comes to HGH in your mid-20s. After the age of 25, you produce HALF as much HGH every 7 years. At 40, youre making one-quarter of the HGH you made at 25. Thats a HUGE difference especially to a pro athlete. According to the Mayo Clinic, HGH shots will build muscle in healthy adults, but traditional exercise works just as well. Im sure thats true for the average person, but HGH will have an extra effect on someone already in great shape.

Why do we care?
HGH can be dangerous when used improperly. Known side effects include joint pain, swollen painful muscles and gynecomastia, which is the medical term for men growing breasts. Pro locker rooms have an unprintable different name for this syndrome. Besides, some muscle mass can be pretty damaging. For example, if the massed-up muscle is your heart, you cant pump blood and you die. HGH is also in the family of hormones that control your metabolism, so theres a theory that use could lead to diabetes.

So how do we fix this?
We can clean this whole thing up in under a year. The WADA, with its partners the International Olympic Committee, the NFL, MLB, FIFA, etc., could call together all of the manufacturers of synthetic HGH and ask them to just add a marker to the inactive part of the HGH molecule. The test would ALWAYS be able to tell synthetic HGH from natural. This would be simple, cheap, totally safe and 100 percent definitive. It would probably require a waiver from the FDA, but the FDA is a political institution, and this is great politics. Just say you're doing it for the children. That always works.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?


QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?


25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.


We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.