Australian athletes have been turning to a “new generation” of banned substances to get the edge over their opponents, according to an Australian Crime Commission report.
The report says hormones and peptides, such as growth hormone-releasing hexapeptide (GHRP), are being used by athletes across Australia’s major codes.
On top of that, Google searches for GHRP are much more common in Australia than in the US or UK.
“Peptides and hormones are considered a new generation of substances and most are prohibited in sport,” Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority chief Aurora Andruska said.
“In many instances, the substances are not yet approved for human use.”
Former ASADA head Richard Ings says peptides and other hormones can be very hard to detect.
“These are very serious performance-enhancing drugs and at the moment they’re very hard to detect through testing so at the moment the only way to determine that athletes are using them is through coercive powers,” he said today.
But how much do you know about the substances like GHRP, pig brain extract, and the other weapons in the dopers’ chemical arsenal?
Growth hormone-releasing peptides
Peptides are short chains of amino acids and are the building blocks for protein.
They occur naturally in the body but can also be taken in supplement form.
Some peptide supplements are legal and work similarly to protein supplements to help the body recover from strenuous activity.
However, there are also a variety of peptides that encourage the body to release growth hormones.
These types of peptides stimulate muscular growth with fewer side effects than anabolic steroids.
They are sold either as a cream or in a solution for injection.
The ACC report notes that various types of growth hormone-releasing peptides, including hexapeptides like GHRP-2 and GHRP-6, are being used.
The report notes that these types of peptides are also used in combination with anabolic steroids to maintain muscle gains.
From an anti-doping perspective, the ability to detect the use of growth hormone-releasing peptides is complex, as the substances are rapidly metabolized.
Growth hormone-releasing peptides are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Growth hormone variants
The ACC report identified the use of Australian-owned growth hormone variant AOD-9604 in sport.
The protein-based hormone helps burn fat and stimulates weight loss, though does not necessarily enhance muscle strength.
Clinical trials have suggested it also helps repair muscle and tissue after strenuous activity.
AOD-9604, used as a cream or injected in liquid form, is not prohibited by WADA but is also not approved for human use.
Selective androgen receptor modulators
Naturally, testosterone binds to a cellular receptor called the androgen before traveling to the cell’s nucleus.
Like anabolic steroids, SARMs work by stimulating the androgen receptor, boosting the uptake of testosterone into cells.
SARMs have similar effects to anabolic steroids – improving strength, bone density, and muscle mass – but reportedly with fewer side effects.
Anabolic steroids can cause acne, the development of male characteristics in females and baldness, infertility, and breast tissue development in males.
The ACC report notes that the use of SARMs by elite athletes has been well documented since 2008.
SARMs injected or used as a cream, are on WADA’s prohibited list.
Insulin-like growth factors
Insulin-like growth factors (IFG-1) are one of the primary hormones needed for cell growth.
They are produced in the liver and are similar to insulin.
They are known for their anabolic effects during childhood growth but remain active into adulthood.
When tested on animals, IFG-1 was found to promote new cell growth and muscle repair, heal tendon injuries and produce rapid increases in muscle mass and strength.
While there are no scientific tests of its impact on humans, the hormone’s anabolic effects are believed to increase muscle, aid recovery, reduce fat and boost endurance.
The ACC report says many players will use IGF-1 in small doses to reduce the chances of returning a positive anti-doping test.
IFG-1, which is injected in liquid form, is on WADA’s prohibited list.
Mechano growth factor
Mechano growth factor, which is injected in liquid form, is a variant of the IFG-1 hormone.
It is released naturally in response to muscle stretching and exercise, particularly weight training.
It stimulates stem cells to become part of the muscle tissue and thus can produce fast increases in muscle mass and strength.
Mechano growth factor is on WADA’s prohibited list, and it is illegal to possess the hormone without a prescription.
The ACC report also identifies the use of a variety of substances that are not approved for human use.
While not prohibited by WADA, their use is considered experimental and “off-label” because there is a lack of long-term clinical studies on the long-term impact of their use.
The substances include:
Cerebrolysin: a peptide extract from pig brain which is used to treat Alzheimer’s and stroke victims. It is said to improve cognitive and behavioral performance by enhancing the function of neurons.
Actovegin: A filtered extract from amino-rich calf blood leads to improved absorption of glucose and oxygen in tissue. It may enhance physical performance and stamina.
AOD-9604: An anti-obesity drug that mimics the effects of exercise and is currently going through human clinical trials. The Australian-developed drug is designed to replicate the human growth hormone that controls the rate of fat metabolism.
TA-65: A drug that acts on a section of the DNA and reportedly reduces aging at the cellular level. It is said to work by targeting telomeres, which are sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes during DNA replication. Telomeres become shorter every time a cell divides, and TA-65 reportedly helps lengthen them, possibly slowing aging.