The Internet has made shopping for so many goods a lot easier and more practical. For parents, it is important to remember that teens may also avail themselves of the ease and convenience that shopping online affords. And unless parents educate and are vigilant over their teens, youths may be getting their hands on some products that could do them a lot of harm.
Such is the case with products that contain the synthetic human growth hormone hGH. This drug is used by doctors in injection form to treat a few medical conditions, such as diminished production of human growth hormone by a person’s pituitary gland, and to treat children whose doctors have determined will not achieve a normal height, unless there is medical intervention.
But a quick online search will take one to websites where products advertised as containing synthetic hGH are marketed to people interested in increasing muscle mass, athletic performance and decreasing body fat; many times, those who buy the products are teenagers, sometimes teens who participate in competitive sports and are looking for a competitive edge.
Medical professionals are sounding off the alarm to parents, advising parents of the results of a recent study which showed that the number of teens using these products more than doubled in a single year.
In 2012, a survey by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that 5 percent of American teens admitted to using products containing the synthetic hormone; in 2013, the Partnership found that the number of teens using synthetic hGH had more than doubled, at 11 percent.
Steve Pasierb, president of the group, called the trend “worrisome” and stated in a news release that it shows a need for tighter regulation and oversight of performance-enhancing products.
Human growth hormone is naturally produced by the body; it is essential for growth and cell production in young people. But while a synthetic form of this hormone has been available since 1985 for a small number of medical conditions, off-label use of synthetic hGH is strictly prohibited by the government. Off-label use of this substance can produce potentially serious, unwanted results. Some of the outcomes of off-label use of synthetic hGH can be:
- Nerve, muscle and joint pain
- Swelling of tissues due to fluid retention (edema)
- A diabetes-like condition, due to synthetic hGH counteracting the effect of insulin in the body
There are other reasons why parents should be concerned about their teens using products advertised as containing synthetic hGH: because this drug is very expensive when obtained from a doctor, there is a good chance that a consumer getting it from other sources is getting a cheaper, counterfeit variety of the drug, meaning that a person doesn’t really know what they’re putting into their system. In addition, doctors always administer synthetic hGH through a shot; when a person ingests it orally, it is digested by the stomach before it reaches the bloodstream (with unknown consequences to the digestive system).
Abuse of synthetic hGH in an attempt to boost athletic power or improve appearance has occurred in the past. To track the use of this and other performance-enhancing drugs, researchers surveyed more than 3,700 high school students. They also did in-home interviews with 750 parents.
The numbers showed that males and females were more or less equally likely to use synthetic hGH products; but there were slight differences in use percentages by different races, with 15 percent of African American teens admitting to having used the drug at least once, compared to 13 percent of Hispanics and 9 percent of Caucasian teens.
The study found that use of steroids has also increased among American teens, from 5 percent of those interviewed in 2009 to 7 percent in 2013. The study’s authors warned that use of synthetic growth hormone and other performance-enhancing products can have serious health risks, and that consumers should be wary of what is a largely unregulated marketplace.
These products are not regulated by any governmental agency and must be proven unsafe, before they can be banned from being sold, added Pasierb. That may give impressionable teens the illusion of safety, when in fact the products have not been rigorously tested and may be unsafe. According to Pasierb, lack of regulatory oversight makes it “difficult, if not impossible” to know the exact ingredients in these products.
Parents should make it a point to talk to their teenage children about the dangers of using drugs — including performance-enhancing products like synthetic hGH or steroids. In the survey, 58 percent of parents said that they had done this with their teens — however, only 12 percent of teens reported that their parents had discussed synthetic hGH in talks about drugs.
Experts advise parents to be aware that their children feel pressure to compete with their peers, and that includes in such things as athletic performance and physical appearance. Parents and other adults in a teen’s life should take this as a call to remember to convey to the children that they are loved and accepted for who they are. The more a child feels loved and appreciated by the adults in his or her life, especially the parents, the less likely the teen will be to feel a need to prove themselves to their peers.
The survey found other alarming trends in drug use among teens:
- 44 percent of teens said they had used marijuana at least once in their lives; 41 percent of those started before reaching the age of 15
- 23 percent said they had misused or abused a prescription drug at least once
(Sources: HealthDay News; drugfree.org; Healthline.com.)
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.