Research at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia has shown that an athletes’ performance increases when they think that they are taking a performance-enhancing drug, even if they never actually take the drug.
The researchers used human growth hormone supplements on half of the study participants, while the other half were given a placebo. Human growth hormone (HGH) is produced naturally by the anterior pituitary gland, and it is a key player in the regulation of muscle, skeletal, and organ growth. It also helps process calcium and protein and stimulates the immune system.
Human growth hormone has become increasingly popular among athletes; however, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) states that it is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, muscle, joint, and bone pain, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis. WADA has classified HGH as a banned substance both in and out of sports competitions.
However, study co-author Dr. Ken Ho, head of the pituitary research unit at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, states that “there is actually no firm scientific proof that growth hormone actually does enhance athletic performance, despite a widespread belief in its ability to do so.”
To perform their research, Dr. Ho and colleagues examined 64 healthy recreational athletes, both male and female between the ages of 20 and 40, who had been exercising at least two hours per week over the six months prior to the study.
Each participant was initially tested for their athletic ability and then randomized into two groups. One group received growth hormone for 8 weeks, and the second group received a placebo. Neither the researchers nor the athletes knew which group the participants were in (i.e. it was a double blind study).
At the end of the two-month trial, the participants were asked to guess whether they had been taking HGH or a placebo, and whether their athletic performance had changed during the study. Athletic ability was then re-tested.
The results were that about half of the participants who received a placebo incorrectly assumed they had been given HGH. Interestingly, the male athletes who received the placebo were more likely than the female athletes to incorrectly think they were in the HGH group. Furthermore, those that guessed incorrectly actually did improve, although slightly, in all measures of performance.
I have actually posted before about a study that showed thatHGH did not affect athletic performance. I still think that it does have benefits to athleticism; however, it does not surprise me that the placebo effect would be strong for somebody that thinks they are on HGH. Psychology is very powerful is sports.