Just ask the Russians. Yes, the Russian Doping Scandal, as we have learned to call it, was a black cloud that kept appearing again and again over the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Any time a Russian athlete competed, we all wondered if they were truly “natural” or “drugged,” and if they actually won, the speculation was taken to the next level.
Now let’s get some facts straight. The word doping in its truest sense refers to “blood doping” which is a process by which athletes maximize the efficiency with which their blood can deliver oxygen to the muscles to improve performance during athletic activities.
In a more general sense, “doping” is catch phrase that is often used to refer to a combination of blood doping, as well as the use of other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance enhancing “designer cocktails.”
So go the Russians as we say, but closer to home we also have a major problem with “doping” here in the United States. The use of performance enhancing drugs has increased dramatically over the past two decades — and one of the biggest spikes has been seen in our youth who are seeking to improve their appearance and their athletic prowess.
I really have two perspectives on the topic: My first perspective involves the facts that I know and the issues that I have dealt with in athletes as a physician; the other is the insight that I have gained as an ex-collegiate athlete and “guy who still hits the gym.” If you’re reading this column purely for leisure, here you go. If you actually know someone who’s on steroids or other PEDs, you might want to forward this article to them.
Now, I’m going to focus mainly on anabolic steroids because steroids and the steroid derivatives that boost testosterone still dominate the market when it relates to PED’s. And while many of our “aging” athletes are taking “medically approved” testosterone-enhancing compounds to combat conditions such as “low T,” my real goal here is to dissuade your kids and young adults from experimenting with illegal PEDs.
If you’re thinking of using anabolic steroids to improve your athletic performance or your appearance — think again. Some athletes use steroids in an attempt to improve their athletic performance. Other people use the drug because they are insecure about their appearance. Anabolic steroids may help you increase the size of your muscles, but if you take the drug to improve your athletic performance or to look “buff,” you might need to know about the side effects. Although some guys at the gym seem to look pretty cool from a distance, and some athletes seem to perform at super-human levels, there is also a big downside.
If you’re a guy, why take a drug that may:
• Cause your hair to fall out?
• Shrink your testicles?
• Give you acne?
• Cause tendon ruptures requiring surgery?
• Contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and even cancer?
If you’re a young woman considering steroids, do you want:
• Facial hair?
• A lower voice?
• Irregular menstrual periods and difficulty getting pregnant?
If you’re an adolescent or high school athlete thinking about it:
• Do you want to take a drug that stunts your growth?
While much attention is paid to the physical changes and side effects that come about through the use of anabolic steroids, it’s important to know that steroids can also have a very negative psychological impact on users. Anabolic steroids can make a person uncontrollably aggressive and combative, even with the people they love. Steroid abusers often have arrest records. Many former steroid abusers tell of terrible depression and suicide attempts.
Do you want to deal with the psychological effects resulting in:
• Aggressive and sometimes violent behavior?
• Paranoid delusions?
• Severe depression that can lead to suicidal behavior?
In addition, if you buy anabolic steroids or other PED’s from illegal sources, you never know if they are pure. You could take a drug that is tainted. And don’t forget — sharing needles to inject steroids has also been linked to AIDS.
How much better will you look with pimples and hair loss? How much better will you perform on a team if a tendon ruptures and you’re out for the season? What if you get depressed and suicidal?
If you’re thinking of taking anabolic steroids and other PED’s, think again about the risks. Think also about the unhappy endings of so many high profile athletes who have used steroids. Just look at Alex Rodriguez who recently played his last game as a Yankee — his entire career is being redefined and overshadowed by the fact that he used PED’s and got caught.
The take-home message here is to simply stay away from them: they’re not a hit in baseball or in any other sport — just ask the Russians.
Dr. Joseph Guettler is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, as well as surgery of the knee, shoulder, and elbow. His practice, Performance Orthopedics, is located in Bingham Farms. Dr. Guettler is active in teaching and research at Beaumont Hospital and Oakland University.