Monday, October 22, 2007

Steroids: Just Don’t Do It!

At 38 years of age I continue to exercise regularly despite a very busy schedule. While traveling for business, and rarely on vacation, the search for hotels with gyms and nearby training facilities is at the top of my list. I have a very competitive spirit and love to win especially when it comes to sports. What a great accomplishment it would be if I where victorious at the 2008 USA Track and Field Masters 400 meter run I am currently training for? I would do anything to win that race…well just about anything.

Modern sports and the media’s obsession with fame, fortune and the “win at any cost” attitude have created an environment for the abuse of the controlled substances called steroids. Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) are the correct name for this class of drugs and many athletes are using them in professional sports today. These substances, once only used by the elite, have spilled over in to mainstream America as we now see weekend warriors and non-athletes using steroids for cosmetic purposes, i.e. weight loss and increased muscle mass. The questions I’m often asked are why people use these illegal and banned substances, what are the benefits of use, and what are the side effects?

AAS are synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone. The ability for steroids to build muscle and strength is the anabolic effect of the drug, while the development of MALE secondary sexual characteristics, like the pitch of someone’s voice and the pattern of body hair describe the androgenic effect of the drugs. The reported benefits of AAS include: improving athletic performance, increased muscle mass, weight gain, weight loss, faster recovery time from fatigue and injury, and increased speed and endurance. Pills, creams, and needles have been substituted for hard work, nutrition, and adequate rest as ways to gain the edge over the opponent.

In 1997, Sports Illustrated interviewed a group of elite Olympic athletes and one of the questions was: "If you were given a performance enhancing substance and you would not be caught and win, would you take it?” 98% of the athletes responded "Yes". The more chilling question was: "If you were given a performance enhancing substance and you would not be caught, win all competitions for 5 years, then die, would you take it?” More than 70% said, "Yes". Are these the messages we want for our youth?

The side effects of steroid use/abuse described in the medical literature include liver damage, kidney and liver tumors, high blood pressure, strokes, elevated cholesterol, mood disorders, acne, increased aggressiveness, nausea, sleep disturbance, increased body and facial hair, male pattern baldness, breast development in men, reduced sperm count, and decreased testicle size. The user who typically will take ten times or more the recommended medical dose and/or combine them with other substances, like human growth hormone, to enhance the effects of AAS, increases the potential for these health related problems. Furthermore, the integrity of these substances comes in to question as they are often purchased via the Internet, black market, or unregulated pharmacies.

The use of AAS is not only harmful, but it is illegal and considering cheating! We must teach young brothers to place more emphasis on participation and competition not merely winning. Hard work, proper nutrition, combined with hydration and rest are the keys to competitive success. I may not win my event in 2008, but I can promise you I will not use steroids to achieve success. My life and my family are much more important to me.

(c) 2007 Rani Whitfield.

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