Steroids – The Facts
- “Corticosteroids” are types of drugs used to treat medical conditions. “Anabolic steroids” are drugs that replicate human sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, which are taken illegally — and often abused — to alter one’s physical appearance.
- Anabolic steroids can be authorized by a doctor in the case of delayed puberty, cancer, or AIDs, but should never be self-prescribed. Often times, drug abusers of steroids take 10 to 100 times more than would be prescribed by a physician to treat a condition or illness.
- Teenage girls use steroids as a way to improve or change their body shape. The side effects include male pattern baldness, a permanently deepened voice, breast shrinking, and detrimental changes to the menstrual cycle.
For males steroid use often cause shrinking of testicles, breast growth, hair loss, infertility, and a higher risk of prostate cancer.
Common side effects of steroids in both sexes are mood swings, manic behavior, insomnia, irritability, and lack of good judgement.
Who Is Lance Armstrong?
Born in 1971 in Texas, Lance Armstrong became a triathlete before turning to professional cycling. His career was halted by testicular cancer, but Armstrong returned to win a record seven consecutive Tour de France races beginning in 1999. Stripped of those titles in 2012 due to evidence of performance-enhancing drug use, Armstrong in 2013 admitted to doping throughout his cycling career, following years of denials.
EPO & Blood Doping
EPO (Erythropoietin)is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red cells. Medically, it is given to patients with anemia of chronic disease whose bone marrow is suppressed to help them have more energy and increase daily function. But, inject it into an elite athlete and the extra oxygen increases their aerobic capacity. If the cell factory runs out of oxygen, it turns to anaerobic metabolism, whose waste products shut down the ability to perform. The risk of increasing the number of red cells? Too many red cells can cause blood to sludge and clot in arteries and veins, causing bad things like stroke and heart attack.
Blood doping has the same end result as using EPO. In effect, the athlete donates a unit (about a pint) or two of blood to himself. The blood can be stored for a month or two while the body replenishes it and just before competition, the saved blood is transfused back into the athlete, increasing the red blood cell count and the oxygen delivery capacity. The risk? The same as using EPO – blood clots and potential death.
Blood doping and EPO use are illegal acts…cheating. But if money is no object, the same end result can be achieved quite legally. Runners who train at altitude, about 6,000 feet above sea level, can see an increase in their erythropoietin level. This is the body adapting to low oxygen concentrations. But intense training at altitude is difficult and performance increases, but not to a great extent. However, if an athlete could sleep at altitude and train at sea level, the effect on performance could be much more dramatic. Thus came the development of hypoxic tents (hypo=low + oxic= oxygen), in which an athlete could sleep and lounge for hours on end and then step outside and train at sea level. Erythropoietin increases in the body as do red blood cell counts and oxygen-carrying capacity. It’s a perfectly legal strategy and accepted by WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, because of its safety record.
Russia’s History of Performance Enhancing Drug Use
Icarus is a 2017 American documentary film by Bryan Fogel, which chronicles Fogel exploring the option of doping to win an amateur cycling race and happening upon a major international doping scandal when he asks for the help of Grigory Rodchenkov the head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory. Netflix acquired the distribution rights. At the 90th Academy Awards the film won the Academy Award for best Documentary Feature..