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Many competitive bodybuilders take anabolicÂ steroidsÂ to achieve their freakishly exaggerated physiques. That is no secret. But steroids can be only one part of an extreme regimen that can wreak havoc on the body.
The Not-So-Strong Kidney
Steroid Use Linked to Kidney Damage
HumanÂ growth hormone, supplements, painkillers and diuretics can also be used to create the "shrink-wrapped" muscles so prized in the aesthetic. And the high concentration of muscle mass puts stress on the body, as if the lifter were obese.
Lifting weights in the gym is "extremely healthy for you," said Kenneth Wheeler, a former elite bodybuilder known as Flex. "But if you want to be a bodybuilder and compete at the highest level, it has nothing to do with health." A relatively rare form of kidney disease forced Wheeler to retire in 2003 at age 37, and he needed aÂ kidney transplantÂ later that year.
Determining the extent of the damage that bodybuilders inflict on themselves is difficult, in part because there is little interest in financing studies on such an extreme group, and because bodybuilders are not always honest about what they take. That is why a case study published last month by a top kidney journal is generating interest in the nephrology and bodybuilding communities. It is among the first to assert a direct link between long-term steroid use and kidney disease.
The study began 10 years ago when a kidney pathologist atÂ Columbia University Medical CenterÂ in New York noticed that a bodybuilder had an advanced form of kidney disease. Curious, she started looking for similar cases and eventually studied 10 men with seriousÂ kidney damageÂ who acknowledged using steroids. Nine were bodybuilders and one was a competitive powerlifter with a similar training routine.
All 10 men in theÂ case series, published in November by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, showed damage to the filters of the kidney. Nine had an irreversible disease known asfocal segmental glomerulosclerosisÂ - the same disease contracted by Wheeler - even though the men in the study did not have other apparent risk factors. Their disease was worse than in obese patients with a higher body-mass index, suggesting that steroids - combined with the other practices - might be harming the kidneys.
Among the study's most persuasive details is the story of a man, 30 years old at the time, who damaged his kidneys after more than a decade of bodybuilding. The patient's condition improved after he stopped using the drugs, discontinued his regimen and lost 80 pounds. But it worsened after the man, who became depressed, returned to bodybuilding and steroids.
"These patients are likely the tip of the iceberg," said Vivette D. D'Agati, the lead researcher. "It's a risk. A significant risk."
Antonecchia competing in the 2001 New World Strongest Man competition where he was the runner-up.