Monday, September 17, 2007

Drugs of Abuse Steroids:Fact or Fiction

By the time you read this article, Barry Bonds may have already broken the home run record. On July 20, 1976 Hank Aaron hit the last and final homerun of his very successful, yet tumultuous career in the Major Leagues. Much like his predecessors, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and many others African American players during that era, he played the game under extreme racism, scrutiny, and ridicule because he was African American and because he seized the home run record of America’s white hero, Babe Ruth. So we should be applauding the efforts of the African American Barry Bonds, right? He has great hand-eye coordination, he is the winner of eight Gold Glove Awards, he was the Most Outstanding Player in Baseball in 1993, and he holds the record for the most home runs in a single season- 73! Something, however, “just ain’t right”, and the accusations of his use of anabolic androgenic steroid (steroids or AAS) to help achieve these goals have not only tarnished his image, but the image of successful African American athletes.

Performance enhancing drugs like steroids are not new to the arena of sports. They date back to the early Olympic Game’s, which started in Greece and has now evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry due to marketing and advertising. As early as 1969, journalist Bill Gilbert was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying, “The pill, capsule, vial, and needle have become fixtures of the locker room as athletes increasingly turn to drugs in the hope of improving performance.” The desire to win and to gain the edge over one’s opponent is innate. Who could argue with a young man or woman whose business contract becomes more lucrative if he/she can out run or out bench press more than his/her competition? The facts, however, still remain: steroids are illegal and are associated with short and long term side effects, some of which are very damaging to the body. The question I am often asked is why do athletes use steroids.

Anabolic (tissue or muscle building) androgenic (the development of masculine characteristics) steroids or AAS are the man made or synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone, a hormone found in men and in women in much smaller amounts, is responsible for the development of males during puberty. The original purpose for the use of steroids by physicians included: replacement of the hormone in men born with low levels; treating individuals who suffered injuries during war; treating those who are malnourished, such as HIV and cancer patients. There are also veterinarian uses for these drugs to treat certain medical problems in cows and horses. When used properly, these medicines can be very successful in treating illnesses and definitely have a place in the medical arena.

Unfortunately, there is a phrase used by some professional athletes: “If you are not using steroids, then you are not trying hard enough!” The quest for supremacy at the expense of one’s health has taken over and the all-mighty dollar is more important than longevity and loved ones. Steroids have been used and proven to build strength and endurance in competitive athletes for decades. Weight gain, weight loss, increased speed, increased strength, and physical appearances are all reasons for the use of these illegal concoctions. Steroids have become much more complex as proven by the “designer” steroids, some of which are undetectable with the latest technology in urine, blood, or hair samples. Steroids are administered in many ways including pills, needles, patches, or creams. Once in the system they are soaked up my muscle cells from the blood stream. Once inside the muscle cells they promote the production of protein, which stimulates muscle growth. Athletes often take doses two to three times the normal amount of steroids required on weekly basis. They mix or stack different types of steroids to achieve various effects: more muscle mass, decreased weight, leaner appearance, etc…. None of these “protocols” used by the athlete have been tested on humans and at best are experimental.

Side effects of steroid use/abuse include high blood pressure, strokes, elevated cholesterol, nausea, sleep disturbances, acne, increased aggressiveness, and mood disorders including anxiety and depression. Women can experience reduced breast size, increased body and facial hair, a deeper voice, and menstrual problems. In men, reduced sperm count; impotence, breast growth, and decreased testicular size have all been documented. Some of these are irreversible and require surgical treatment.

It still amazes me, however, that I get request frequently for these drugs to improve performance. To win at any and all cost is the main reason. A poll taken in 1995 of 198 sprinters, swimmers, power lifters, and other Olympians and aspiring Olympians asked if the athletes would take a performance-enhancing substance if they knew it would help them win there event and they would not be caught- 195 out of 198 said yes. The poll went further to ask if under the same conditions they would take the substance knowing that in five years they may die- 80% still said yes!

Educating our youth on proper nutrition, exercise, and the consequences of steroid use/abuse is the key. Commitment to the sport on all levels is the only way to be successful. Steroids are illegal, potentially harmful, and are viewed as cheating. Is Barry Bonds guilty; unfortunately many believe that he is, despite being one of the most talented individuals to ever play the game of baseball and one of my personal favorites. My advice to him is to never take or rub something on his body without doing a little research. I surely will celebrate the day he breaks the record, but for some, his success will always be in question.

For more information on steroids visit ( or visit my website (, view the Steroid Man, and shoot me a question at (c) 2007 Rani Whitfield. This article was published September 2007 at

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