In their search for clarity in the ongoing doping saga in Belgian cycling, Flemish newspaper HNB went looking for information on the IGF-1 substance.
'Spectacular, undetectable and perilous' is how this product is described by experts. Since EPO is detectable, IGF-1 is the ideal doping product, according to Dr. Chris Goossens, doping expert for the Flemish Community. It strengthens the muscles, improves recuperation and above all, cannot be detected. The fact that the user might be taking serious risks with his life doesn't seem to matter much, as according to the public prosecutor's office of Turnhout, the insulin-like growth hormone was one of the products found during their raid.
Growth hormone, and more specifically IGF-1, triggers the production of growth hormone in the body. Growth hormone makes us grow, but not only in length - feet, hands and muscles too. Growth hormone itself still is used as a doping product but might be detectable in the near future, via blood tests. However, IGF-1 can't be.
Explained Dr. Goossens, "The product strengthens the muscles and improves recuperation which allows you to train more, it transforms fat into muscle and it's not traceable. Not even with the special kits that will be used to detect the different types of growth hormone [natural or artificially produced]. The American Food and Drug Administration only approved of the medicine for patients with IGF-deficit last year."
Sold as Increlex, there are some salient points to be made against the use, or rather abuse of the product. "There have no studies been released about the side effects," said Dr. Goossens. "If you take IGF-1, you're on thin ice. Disturb your own hormone production isn't healthy at all to start with."
In fact, you're playing with your life if you decide to abuse the product for doping purposes, warns Dr. Goossens. "It's endangering life. Growth hormone and IGF will cause an unbridled growth among other muscles, but the heart is also a muscle. The blood vessels don't follow that growth pattern, which will unavoidably cause heart attacks. The uncontrolled growth of cells has caused growth hormone tumours before."