The lure of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is seductive; everyone wants to find that special “something” that gives them the competitive edge. But that minute of glory can come at a huge price. We’ve seen athletes like Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and Roger Clemens publicly shamed and stripped of their glory for their use of PEDs. But the darker side of drugs and doping is that those secret “sauces” are devastating to the body and some are even life threatening.
Catching Bodies Downstream
We are astounded when athletes (both professional and amateur) die young from diseases like kidney or heart failure or liver atrophy. Few people connect the dots to realize that PEDs overtax the body to the point where it gives out early. For those who don’t die, they can be left lingering in a lifetime of dialysis, cancers, pain and bodily breakdown. Along with the physical devastation, we see athletes like pro wrestler Chris Benoit take his own life and his family’s because of the mental effects of extreme PED use.
Many medical professionals spend their days catching bodies downstream. People who skirted the medical system or went underground to get drugs end up needing medical help and it’s often crisis care. In 2008, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimated that 15 million people in the United States were using PEDs with about 3 million of those people admitting to steroid usage. Disturbingly, the number of young people using PEDs has become a fast-growing sector. Because it is so hush-hush, instead of being able to help people avoid the dangers of PEDs, doctors are left trying to help people put their lives and bodies back together after PEDs have stolen them.
Dr. John Martinez is a primary care physician for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, California, who volunteers for the USA Triathlon and the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, and is the Medical Director for OmegaWave ITU Triathlon in San Diego and for the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon. He is gravely concerned by athletes using higher dosages of substances like anabolic steroids than would ever be recommended. This can lead to liver failure. Other substances like erythropoietin (EPO), often used by cyclists, create more red blood cells for greater endurance but also can cause blood thickening and clotting. When used above recommended dosages, it can trigger a stroke or heart failure.
Dr. Martinez also worries about the risk of infection with injectables. He said, “People put themselves at risk for everything from skin abscesses to Hepatitis B or C, which is easier to transmit than HIV.” U.S. pharmaceutical grade substances are expensive, so people often opt for black market medications. But many of these drugs are contaminated or counterfeit. Dr. Martinez is also alarmed by the number of people who make dangerous mistakes using injectables improperly, which can be life-threatening and, “most people don’t recognize the side effects that would alert a physician to an impending crisis.”
Retired addictionologist and pharmacologist Dr. Peter Glassman also has serious concerns. Dr. Glassman is on staff at two treatment centers in San Antonio, Texas. He worries about the impact of PEDs on bodily functions. For example, he explained, “Stimulants from caffeine to amphetamines enhance energy,” but in doing so they cause elevated blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. Of course, large/abusive doses can be a problem. But for those with unrecognized or even diagnosed heart disease, a small dose can be life-threatening. “Stimulants can be a formula for disaster in the form of heart attacks, heart failure or strokes,” he continued. “And over the long term, the kidneys can fail, too.”
Steroids, Dr. Glassman notes, increase a sense of euphoria, raise blood sugar, give muscle bulk and strength, but it all has a cost. “If you’re diabetic, you’re in trouble with the sugar elevation,” says Glassman. “Blood pressure also becomes elevated because of weight gain, not only from increased muscle mass but also from fluid retention.” And, because steroid use can overtax the body’s immune system function, every infection has the potential to be devastating because the body just doesn’t have the “oomph” to fight back.
Like A Teenager Again
Many athletes are turning to Human Growth Hormone (HGH; illegal in many professional sports) for that extra kick. It does have its proper purpose as noted by Dr. Scott Brandt (thrivemdvail.com) in Vail, Colorado. Dr. Brandt specializes in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. He points out that after 40, decreasing testosterone levels can lead to weight gain, increased body fat, loss of muscle strength, loss of stamina and decreased aerobic activity. He uses HGH to help people reverse these conditions in his anti-aging practice.
Complications arise when people try to bamboozle Mother Nature and trigger increased testosterone effects long before they have grown old. And, Dr. Glassman pointed out that those who use HGH before natural age-related decline, “usually combine it with anabolic steroids to promote muscle mass and performance. If any cancer cells are present, with the body’s immune response compromised, cancer cells can overcome rejection.” If you have a history of cancer in your family, you could be at extraordinary risk!
What Are You Thinking?
Working with athletes and their addictions keeps Cali Estes (theaddictionscoach.com) busy on both sides of the country. She looks at the use of PEDs from a mental health angle. In her work, Estes has found that many people dismiss the choice to use PEDs as just part of the risk of winning. “As a country, we send a conflicting message. For instance in bodybuilding, enhancement drugs are used and even welcomed. In some sports, athletes know that their [career] time is limited and they must maximize their value before their ability to play (as they age) changes and they lose their jobs,” she said.
The addiction, Estes explained, is not only physical, but mental. “Once an athlete starts winning and succeeding, the need to take more drugs to produce a faster, better result kicks in and the cycle continues,” she said. In her practice, Estes said helping athletes come back from PED use means dealing with depression, mood swings, uncontrollable weight gain and sometimes even suicide attempts.
It’s important to get a handle on what really is a “competitive edge.” Bryan Cash of Max Muscle Highlands Ranch/Lone Tree in Colorado points out that using PEDs is really about vanity, cutting corners and short-lived results. That kind of edge can disappear in a snap. Working with his customers (who include two Olympic athletes and many high schoolers), he helps them focus on achieving health – both physically and mentally. He also finds that PED users are actually setting themselves up for injury. Cash said, “If you’re not scared of a little hard work and discipline, then doing it the right way will get you long-term results! You have to be willing to do things others are not – sleep, train to failure, take time for recovery and use proper nutrition. Then, the gains stick with you, both mentally and physically!”
From The Trenches
Derek Williams is a former competitive bodybuilder, powerlifter, wrestler and karate competitor who is now an acupuncturist and certified strength and conditioning specialist in Wilkesboro, NC. He believes that because fans and money-making sports industries crave performances or looks for which the body is not naturally designed, athletes turn to drugs and put themselves in danger to keep the spotlight. He listed some of the main PEDs being used in the bodybuilding arena: diuretics to lose water and look more ripped, Synthol injected into the muscles to make them swell, Dinitrophenol (DNP) to burn massive amounts of fat fast (which can quickly raise your body temperature to deadly levels of 110 degrees or higher) and Clenbuterol (an asthma medication from Mexico) to speed up metabolism. Competitive shooters use beta blockers to slow their heart rate way down so they can fire their weapon between heart beats for greater accuracy.
Banned and legal drugs are all sold on the sly. Unfortunately, black market drugs don’t come with warning labels or lengthy inserts alerting you to their effects when misused or abused. Williams also worries about a new underground trend called gene doping. Basement “chemists” implant genetic material into a virus that turns off the myostatin gene, the gene that limits muscle growth. Once the body is infected with the virus, it runs rampant and the body can create an unlimited amount of muscle. Unfortunately, the body isn’t designed to nourish an unlimited amount of muscle, so eventually the heart just gives out.
Williams has seen many of his fellow competitors and some of his heroes not only wasted by PEDs but some have also died from the complications of PED use. “Mohammed Benaziza, Andreas Munzer and Nasser El Sonbaty are three guys who died very young,” Williams said, noting that all three were using a wide variety of PEDs. Williams was out to dinner when he ran across someone who he just couldn’t place. Later he realized it was of the biggest and most respected amateur bodybuilders in the area. “However, when I saw him, he looked emaciated,” Williams said. “He looked as if he had lost nearly 100 pounds of muscle and aged 30 years in only 10.” A friend told Williams the man was in kidney failure due to PED use.
There Is a Better Way!
Jamie Free from Max Muscle Cool Springs, TN said, “The problem with PEDs is that people believe they will make them better athletes. All they do is inflate who you think you are. They won’t make you a better athlete. If you don’t have what it takes, then PEDs won’t get you there either!”
Scott Herkes, franchisee of Max Muscle Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, Illinois stores, agrees. Herkes works with world class male and female athletes on a regular basis who are drug-free and extremely focused on their training and nutrition. “We help them to devise a supplementation plan to speed up their recovery times, which allows them to train longer and harder,” Herkes said. “When you see all of the success from people who do it naturally, there just isn’t any justification for taking the risks associated with synthetic drugs.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be your personal best; but being your best shouldn’t cost you your life or your health. Scott Schmindel teaches his clients how to use foods and healthy eating to create a lean physique that is healthy. Cali Estes uses yoga, Pilates and nutritional coaching to help people recover from the ravages of drug use along with her counseling work. Derek Williams uses acupuncture to help his clients and has just published a new book about using applied kinesiology to improve athletic performance.
The certified fitness nutrition coaches at Max Muscle stores nationwide use sensible nutritional planning to help their athletes be the best they can be. Herkes recommends many of the products in the Max Muscle line: Max ARM for recovery, Max Vit-Acell for an all-around multi-vitamin/multi-mineral, and performance enhancers like Max CX3, Xtinguisher for endurance athletes, and Pro BCAA. Cash suggests a number of products to his customers to help them reach and maintain a “competitive edge” no matter what sport they’re in. He recommends 2TX, CLA, Omega 3’s, CNS Black, CX3, MaxPro Natural Vanilla, IsoXtreme and ACM. Free is big on recovery as well, stating that Max ARM is his favorite product for recovery. “The faster you recover, the better you are,” he said.
Max Muscle’s knowledgeable staff members can help you design a safe and effective plan for achieving your goals and reaching your potential – for a lifetime of health and fitness, not a fleeting a second of fame. Find a store near you via MaxMuscle.com. MS&F
Competing With Heart
New York City-based personal trainer Scott Schmindel (www.specific-training.com) spent his childhood obese and bullied. As a teenager, he put himself on a fitness routine, made huge health strides and became a top athlete at his school. One day walking home from practice, he was hit by a car and hospitalized for two months. Undaunted, he worked his way back and became a competitive bodybuilder.
Because of his smaller physique and his challenges/setbacks, Schmindel could have easily talked himself into using PEDs to gain an edge. But, he said, “Performance-enhancing drugs may improve your strength, size, speed and more, but they don’t necessarily make you a winner. A winner is a winner from the inside out, from the heart. PEDs won’t give you more heart!”
Don’t Take Our Word for It. Look at the Research!
We have lots of slang terms for the side effects of PEDs (like “’roid rage” and “juiced”) that give us some hints about their effects. But, the aftermath of using PEDs is no laughing matter. For example, researchers have found:
Anabolic Steroids can cause negative changes in cardiovascular and mental health (reference 1, 2 and 3).
Erythropoietin (EPO) can lead to depression and increased risk of heart attacks (references 4 and 5).
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) can increase hypertension, cardiac disease and overgrowth of hands, feet and face (reference 6).
With all the designer combinations and experimental substances out there, researchers can barely keep up with the side effects and contraindications. It pays to stay informed! The Endocrine Society’s website (www.endo-society.org) has good information to start off your research.
If the science doesn’t convince you, take a moment to read and watch the testimonials at http://taylorhooton.org/stories/. Don Hooton created the site after his son Taylor, a promising baseball player, committed suicide when coming off steroids.
Oh, and that stuff about what steroid use can do to the “family jewels”? Yeah, that’s true, too (reference 7)!
Gruber, A. J., & Pope, H. G. (2000). Psychiatric and medical effects of anabolic – androgenic steroid use in women. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 69(1), 19-26.
Haller, C. A., & Benowitz, N. L. (2000). Adverse cardiovascular and central nervous system events associated with dietary supplements containing ephedra alkaloids. New England Journal of Medicine, 343(25), 1833-1838.
Parssinen, M., & Seppala, T. (2002). Steroid use and long term health risks in former athletes. Sports Medicine, 32(2), 83-94.
Singbartl, G. (1994). Adverse events of erythropoietin in long-term and in acute or short-term treatment. Clinical Investigation, 72, 536-543.
Sullivan, M. L., Martinez, C. M., Gennis, P., & Gallagher, E. J. (1998). The cardiac toxicity of anabolic steroids. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 41(1), 1-15.
McHugh, C. M., Park, R. T., Sonksen, P. H., & Holt, R. I. (2005). Challenges in detecting the abuse of growth hormone in sport.Clinical Chemistry, 51(9), 1587-1593
“The truth about anabolic steroids.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 17 Jan. 2004.