Since ancient history, many athletes have resorted to performance enhancing aids to give them an edge on their opponents. Greek Olympians used strychnine and hallucinogenic mushrooms to psych up for an event. “In 1886 a French cyclist was the first athlete to die from using a performance enhancer, called speedballs, a mixture of cocaine and heroin. In the 1920’s, physicians inserted slices of monkey testicles into male athletes to help boost vitality. In the 1930’s Aldof Hitler allegedly administered the hormone testosterone to himself and his troops to increase aggressiveness” (Schrof, 54). Athletes had already begun using the male hormone testosterone to boost performance by the 1940’s. The first synthetic anabolic steroid was developed in 1953, having a strength building effect five times stronger than the natural hormone testosterone. Not since the development of the anabolic steroid has any performance enhancer been so effective and so desired by athletes. Today, black market sales of anabolic steroids are topping $400 million per year. One million Americans, half of them adolescents, use black market steroids (Schrof, 54).
Anabolic steroids are synthetic compounds that resemble the natural male sex hormone testosterone. Male hormones have two different effects in the body. Hormones have an anabolic effect, which stimulates growth, and they have an androgenic effect, which increases male sexual characteristics. Anabolic steroids are constructed synthetically to maximize the anabolic (growth) effect and minimize the androgenic (male characteristic) effect. Steroids are molecules that occur naturally in the body and are carried in the bloodstream and act as messengers. The most important of these messages tell the body to increase creatine phosphate synthesis and to increase protein synthesis (Schwarzenegger, 722). These messages are delivered at various ratios depending upon the type of steroid.
Creatine phosphate and protein synthesis are the two most important reactions that occur when training. Creatine phosphate is a short-term energy restorer which allows you to contract your muscles for more than just a few seconds. The more CP available, the more muscular work you can do, thus the harder you can train and the more muscle you will build. This, along with the need for protein synthesis, is the reason for the attraction to steroids.
There are hundreds of forms of steroids that have been synthesized, each one having differing levels of anabolic and androgenic effects. Some steroids are used to treat illness and injury. Corticosteroids are one of the most successful forms that have been synthesized. They are used to treat everything from tendon injuries to vision problems. There are many other forms of steroids that were synthesized for their strength and muscle building properties. Steroids can be taken orally of by an injection.
Oral steroids have many drawbacks. Oral steroids, are constructed to have short life spans and are broken down all at once. Because of this, oral steroids put a tremendous strain on the liver. For example, if a user takes 200 mg of an oral steroid, the liver must destroy the entire 200 mg in one day (Schwarzenegger, 724). Taking oral steroids may also lead to blood sugar problems. Injectable steroids are chemically constructed to have longer life spans. 200 mg of an injectable is constructed to last 17 days, meaning that the body will breakdown only 12 mg per day, which is much easier on the body (Schwarzenegger, 724). Injectable steroids bypass the liver and go directly into the bloodstream, and therefore, they are faster acting. Another drawback to taking steroids by injection, many users complain, is that it must be administered with huge syringes. The user must insert the needle 1.5 to 2 inches into the muscle of the thigh or buttocks. The deeper the depth of the needle, the less of the steroid that leaks through the
skin. “Sometimes one of the guys will inject in one side of his butt one day and the other the next. Then, we all laugh at him because he can barely sit down for the next three days,” said a 19 year old teenager from Arizona (Schrof, 57).
Not all the side effects have been determined yet. Steroids are known to have effects on the cardiovascular system, testosterone production, liver function, and neurologic functions. Prolonged, high doses of steroids can have serious effects on the liver. Some of these include, progressive cholestatis and jaundice, peliosis hepatitis, hemorrhaging, and the possibility of liver cancer (Schwarzenegger, 726). These problems are especially noticeable in users who take oral steroids.
Steroids possibly have their biggest effect on the brain. Steroids also cause a marked increase in the level of cortisol, the body’s major stress hormone (Schwarzenegger, 726). This can also lead to hypertension, stress and neurologic problems. Steroid users also experience higher levels of aggression, often called ” ‘roid rages” (Schwarzenegger, 726). A recent study has definitively shown that anabolic steroids can cause temporary mental problems, including mood swings and violent impulses (Time, 16). These aggressions can grow to and become a major problem.
Although many of the long term side effects have not been determined, the short term side effects can be harmful, even fatal. Athletes who choose to use steroids or other hormones must take into consideration the delicate balance of the body. When a new hormone is flooded into the body, a series of events will occur as the body tries to regain its natural balance. By altering the balance of the endocrine system users may be taking a big risk.
Schrof, Joannie M. “Pumped Up.” US News and World Report, June 1, 1992,Volume 12 Issue 21, p54.
Schwarzenegger, Arnold. “Anabolic Steroids and Ergogenic Aids.” The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. New York: Simon and Schuster. Pgs. 721-730.
“Health Report.” Time, June 14, 1993, Vol. 141 Issue 24, p16.