I have had the wonderful privilege of being part of the medical staff for my sons’ sporting events, I also work in a physiatry practice that has a serious focus on sport medicine. As a PA, I truly enjoy the opportunity to help out when and where needed and find that to be a fringe benefit of the job. As the intensity and competitiveness have increased in sports, at all levels, I have been getting asked questions on steroids, prohormones and other assorted PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs)/testosterone-enhancing medications that one can obtain OTC, online or on the black market. The kids are curious, do they work, what are the side-effects---what are the risks, long-term effects. They see all these professional athletes doing all these amazing speed drills, lifting, performances on the field/rink/pitch and wonder if with the use of a supplement (term is used loosely) could this be the difference between the bench and starting---scholarship vs watching the game from the stands. It dawned on me that my knowledge was outdated---times have certainly changed, so I decided to do some research on the matter and give more informed advice. First off, regarding the above paragraph---my answer has always been and will continue to be, “NO…don’t do it/them!” This statement is based on 2 reasons: One, the cynic in me believes in no free lunches---you have this wonderful body temple, in essence the perfect machine, and I cannot grasp the concept that a pill or shortcut can make you better. Two, messing around with one’s body chemistry is a dicey proposition at best---this is especially true for those using PED’s in the teen/puberty years. Overall, besides short-term performance enhancement, I can find no reason for the usage of PEDs. This is counter-balanced with a lifetime risk of serious issues and the stigma that you cheated. Confession time, I never saw or truly knew anyone who did steroids in high school. This changed in college when I found one of my roommates injecting himself in the rear. It seemed kind of silly at the time given the fact that it was purely for personal gains---he didn’t play or participate in any sports. Therefore, I have no personal knowledge of steroids and times have certainly changed---once you had to score the drug from some shady dealer and now you can order it online, they’re advertised on TV further softening the concerns.
So, what are PED’s?
To keep this discussion simple, I have just focused on steroids and pro-hormones:
Steroids = “Anabolic Androgen Steroids or AASs are synthetic derivatives of testosterone that have been modified to maximize anabolic effects. These testosterone derivatives have several general effects: they promote an increased nitrogen concentration in muscle, which in turn promotes an anabolic state; the agents inhibit the binding of catabolic glucocorticoids to muscle, preserving muscle mass and prohibiting muscle breakdown; When combined with strength training, AASs increase fat-free mass and muscle strength. Strength gains can be substantial, with increase of strength to 5% to 20%.”1. In layman’s terms: Steroids make you bigger/stronger with the same effort.
Prohormones = “A typical prohormone is intended to be a precursor of an anabolic steroid like testosterone, which is taken in order to boost the body’s available hormone supply. These precursors are intended to be converted to full, active hormones via an enzymatic process that occurs during metabolism, typically resulting in the addition of whichever atoms happen to be missing from the chemical structure of the compound.”4. To avoid any confusion, taking Pro-hormones is ,essentially, taking steroids: they are not safer, better or any less of cheating stigma. PED’s are not a new player in the game of life or sports:
“Gladiators of Roman times used to ingest strychnine to avoid injury and to decrease fatigue. During the 1950s, the Soviet Union dominated power lifting by providing their wrestlers testosterone injections. In the 1960s, Sports Illustrated documented the use of amphetamines, tranquilizers, cocaine, and other drugs by professional athletes.”1.
“ The Incas chewed cacao leaves to sustain their activity. Norse warriors ate mushrooms with muscarinic activity that fueled hallucinogenic-driven rages and morphed men into fearless warriors. During World War II, amphetamines were used by both soldiers and pilots to combat fatigue”2.
What are the benefits of taking steroids/prohormones:
- Increase muscle mass
- Superior strength/endurance
- Better athletic performance and greater competitive spirit
- Faster athletic recovery3.
What are the risks of taking steroids/prohormones:
- High blood pressure
- Heart damage
- Cardiac arrest
- Swollen prostate, prostate cancer
- Breast enlargement in males
- Male pattern baldness
- Testicular atrophy
- Roid rage
- Infectious diseases such as AIDs, hepatitis2&3
This list continues… I have listed some of the highlights. With the increased competitive nature of today’s sports and looking to get that extra edge combined with the downplaying/marketing of the products---we all know steroids are bad, but how many people know Pros or prohormones are bad? Be informed when your child asks about supplements---some carry very significant risk factors.