Anyone who has watched the news or read a newspaper in the past two days should be aware of the recent 50 game suspension of Manny Ramirez by Major League Baseball.  Ramirez is the left fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and his hitting prowess is one reason the Dodgers have gotten off to a great start for the 2009 season.  Ramirez was suspended because he tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG).  This is surprising as hCG is produced only by the placenta in pregnant women (pregnancy testing kits measure hCG in the urine).  Why would a female hormone be found in the blood of a male Major League Baseball player?

hCG is used by anabolic steroid users to restart normal function of their endocrine system after finishing a cycle of steroid use.  Anabolic steroids include the male hormone testosterone.  Testosterone has two functions in the male: to stimulate growth and to stimulate sperm production by the testes.  Testosterone is also produced by the testes in response to stimulation by lutenizing hormone (LH) released by the pituitary gland.  The body has a natural “feedback” system that keeps testosterone levels under control.  When testosterone levels are high, testosterone turns off LH secretion into the blood from the pituitary gland.  This causes testosterone levels to fall.  When this happens, LH secretion picks up again to stimulate testosterone production.  This system works beautifully for most people.  However, the anabolic steroid user causes major problems for this system.  The high levels of steroids that the user injects into himself turn off LH secretion by the pituitary.  Because the testes no longer are stimulated by LH, the testes atrophy (shrink in size) and stop producing sperm.  These are very disturbing side effects for most men.  This is where hCG comes in to play.  hCG mimics the effects of LH on the testes.  hCG stimulates the testes to produce testosterone and therefore prevents “shrinkage” and loss of sperm production.  It is very suspicious (particularly for athletes) for males to have high levels of hCG.  hCG is a substance banned by Major League Baseball (and other athletic governing bodies) for this reason; hence the Ramirez suspension.