News that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis may have used IGF-1, a banned substance, to recover from torn triceps in October broke Tuesday, sparking a whirlwind of questions about the hormone variant just days before the Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's Super Bowl.
IGF-1 came to foreground Tuesday when it was mentioned along with the performance-enhancing drugs that a South Florida clinic provided to a handful of professional athletes, according to a report in the Miami New Times
newspaper. Sports Illustrated
also reported Tuesday that some football players used a substance taken from deer-antler velvet that contains IGF-1, most notably, Lewis.
Lewis reportedly contacted a company called S.W.A.T.S. in October to obtain IGF-1 for his torn triceps, according to Sports Illustrated. The "company," Sports with Alternatives to Steroids, is really a two-man operation run out of the back of a gym in Alabama that peddles special light beams, "negatively-charged" water and hologram chips, said to render athletes faster, stronger and more energized.
But what exactly is IGF-1, what does it do and why is it banned? And did Ray Lewis really use it?
In animals, IGF-1, or insulinlike growth factor-1, can heal tendon injuries and build muscles, according to the New York Times
. It's believed to make a human that takes it bigger, faster and stronger, as does its better-known relative, human growth hormone.
In the body, IGF-1 is made naturally in response to growth hormone and is needed for growth hormone to have its effects on muscles and other tissues. Growth hormone, synthesized in the pituitary gland, travels to the liver, which then responds by producing IGF-1.
IGF-1 has long been on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substances list, alongside human growth hormone. Companies like S.W.A.T.S. obtain IGF-1 by harvesting deer antlers, which are said to contain high concentrations of the hormone, according to Sports Illustrated.
As for Lewis, he denies ever having taken any performance-enhancing drugs.
"Every test I’ve ever took in the NFL? There’s never been a question if I’ve even thought about using anything," Lewis said Tuesday during a round of pre-Super Bowl interviews.
The Ravens also backed the veteran linebacker.
"Ray has been randomly tested for banned substances and has never failed a test," the team said in a statement Tuesday, according to NBC Sports. "He has never been notified of a failed test."
The problem with testing for IGF-1 is there is no widely available urine test for it. As of now, it can only be detected through a blood test, the New York Times said.
"Absent an admission from Lewis or other conclusive evidence of IGF-1 use, there’s no way this thing will ever go anywhere," writes NBC Sports' Mike Florio.
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