Having the ultimate body has been a dream of mine ever since I was a teenager, inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arms and Sylvester Stallone’s abs. I thought that all these well-shaped athletes had gained their bodies from hard work, normal food, and hard training so, last month, I started to work out at a popular fitness chain, admiring the posters of body building champions gracing the main entrance. I was pushing myself hard in the gym five days a week, but making little progress, only to discover that “Many sports people and athletes feel it is necessary to abuse anabolic steroids in order to achieve their full sporting potential despite the risks associated with side effect” (Mottram et al 55). I was surprised to learn this, as it facilitated the question: Can science help to improve the human body through drugs? The pressure society and the media place on the notion of having the ideal or perfect body encourages individuals to want to be considered as “Mr. Perfect Body”, like the figures on the posters, and in order to achieve this, you have to abuse Anabolic steroids.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) are artificial substances that mimic the testosterone hormone to affect the body’s muscular growth and this causes numerous side effects, including an increase in blood pressure and atherosclerosis, heart failure, cancer in the liver, tendon damage, cardiomyopathy, hypercoagulopathy, hepatic dysfunction, psychiatric and behavioral disturbances, and a reduction in male fertility (Kam and Yarrow 685; Mottram et al 55-57; Thiblin and Petersson 27). In addition to the well-known effects of androgens, including testicular atrophy, reduced production of sperm, acne vulgaris and gynecomastia, several controlled cross-sectional studies and one controlled prospective study have demonstrated other physical alterations, such as enlargement of the prostate gland and disturbances in blood coagulation and thyroid function (Thiblin and Petersson 30). Furthermore, examinations of bodybuilders using AAS have shown elevated “serum concentrations of C-reactive protein, which is associated with a greater propensity to develop peripheral arterial disease” (Thiblin and Petersson 30). A column in African news service declared that:
“Use of steroids transforms a woman to a masculine body form that is characterized by more pronounced jaw muscles, excessive hair growth (the chin, buttocks, chest, the anus, and nipples), male pattern baldness with a receding hairline, deeper voices, reduced breast size, very coarse skin with acne and enlargement of clitoris” (Kimenje).
It is for these reasons as well as the unfair advantage it offers in sports that anabolic steroid abuse is illegal and forbidden in professional sports and personal use.
A survey conducted by Parkinson and Evans (644-50) indicated overall, the majority of AAS users (58.8%) are between18-30, and an alarming 1%-7.3% of anabolic steroids users are between 14-18 years old grabbed my attention. However, other studies showed that the percentage was 0.1% among teenage girls (Kanayama et al. 156). In a nationwide study of 12th grade male students, 6.6% had used anabolic steroids at some point in their lives and 65% of those who admitted to using AAS had participated in school-sponsored athletics like football, wrestling, track and field, and baseball (Walker and Adams 1044). A similar examination of high school football players revealed that 6.3% admitted to current or former AAS use and surveys conducted at the collegiate level indicate that AAS use among athletes ranges from 5% to 20% (Walker and Adams 1044). Despite the knowledge that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned the use of anabolic agents like steroids, stimulants, including amphetamines, narcotics, and diuretics, and peptide hormones like erythropoietin and growth hormone by athletes and that such use will invalidate the results of any performance rendered while under the influence of such substances, competitive athletes still use AAS and other banned substances (Kam and Yarrow 685). An astounding number of athletes have been documented as abusers of AAS, such as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, many of whom are from Major League Baseball (MLB) (“Top 10”). The statistics on the number of people using these drugs are very high so, what makes these people take anabolic steroids knowing the damage it can do to their bodies, their reputations, their legacies, and their careers?
Athletes have historically used a variety of means to achieve an advantage over their opponents and allegations of steroid use by professional athletes has had a significant and negative influence young athletes by associating steroids with athletic success (Rosenfield 333). Adolescents that see these athletes as heroes are choosing to model their negative behavior regardless of risks since the majority of the risks associated with use of AAS do not pose an immediate danger (Rosenfield 333). The negative side effects associated with the use of AAS develop after prolonged use (Thiblin and Petersson 28). Steroids were initially developed in the late 1930s to treat hypogonadism, which is a condition in which the testicles do not make sufficient amounts of testosterone to facilitate normal growth, development, and sexual functioning (Robinson). The class of pharmaceuticals known as steroids is actually variations of naturally occurring testosterone, created to stimulate the various hormonal pathways, which is an anabolic, tissue-building, process (Robinson). As indicated by Robinson:
“In their class categorization, steroids are termed androgenic (promoting masculinity) or anabolic (tissue building), hence their full title: androgenic anabolic steroids. The androgenic effects of steroids are typically experienced naturally by males during puberty”.
It is estimated that, in the U.S. alone, more than 1 million individuals are using some form of AAS drugs (Hall and Hall 550). For many advocates of AAS use, it is thought they could actually assist the male who, for whatever reason, experiences declining levels of these hormone steroids, taken under a doctor’s supervision, will enhance one’s health and well-being, and keep them ahead of their competitors in terms of bodybuilding success (Robinson). Advocates of steroid use protest that anabolic steroids are illegal, while alcohol and tobacco are sold over the counter, insisting how useful they are for their training. However, many worry about the ease of access of these powerful drugs and the content of the pills bought on any number of Internet web sites selling these products without prescription, and with competitive prices. Musshof et al. cited that “Anabolic steroids found in illegal markets often do not contain ingredients declare on the label” (Musshoff, Daldrup, and Ritsch 1120).
Opponents for AAS abuse indicate that such ease of access is responsible for the alarming trend indicating that “the majority of abusers begin use by age 16 years and obtain their drugs on the black market, with physicians supplying a significant number of these abusers” (Hall and Hall 550). While use of AAS permeates all areas of sports, more than 90% of bodybuilders and athletes that compete in power events like “weight-lifting, shot-put, javelin, discus, and hammer throw, has used anabolic steroids” (Walker and Adams 1044). Such use can initiate skin changes in previously asymptomatic athletes, “including acne (53%), increased body hair (47%), oily skin and hair (27%), and loss of scalp hair (20%)”, as reported by Walker and Adams (1044), and these symptoms were reported by male and female users. Another concern is that some athletes take very high “megadoses” to produce fast results or engage in “pyramiding”, which is when the user increases doses slowly over time, leading to doses that are 10-40 times larger than what is used medically (Rosenfield 334). Additionally, some users that self-medicate tend to combination both oral steroids and injection AAS in six to twelve week exercise cycles (Rosenfield 334).
Often, steroid users combine different medications to neutralize or enhance certain desired effects in a process called “stacking” (Hall and Hall 550; Rosenfield 334). As demonstrated in an analysis by Libman, Menna, and Gulati (522), a body builder working as a personal fitness trainer “had a cardioembolic stroke, resulting from ephedra-induced cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation, caused by direct cardiac toxicity, catecholamine excess, or possibly hypersensitivity myocarditis”, although he was denying use of prescribed medications, tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs. It was later discovered that the patient had taken “an ephedra-containing nutritional supplement daily for the past 3 years”, “weekly intravenous use of nandrolone and intermittent use of intravenous stanazol one year before onset of symptoms” (Libman, Menna, and Gulati 522). Medical examiners determined that the patient’s use of anabolic steroids most likely added to his symptoms (Libman, Menna, and Gulati 522).
Overall, any variety of AAS, “…when taken in supraphysiologic doses, can produce significant mental changes including irritability, aggressiveness, euphoria, grandiose beliefs, hyperactivity, and reckless and dangerous behavior” (Hall and Hall 550). It is estimated that anywhere from 15–40% of people that use the gym on a regular basis use anabolic steroids (Kam and Yarrow 686). More recent estimates suggest that there are about 3 million AAS abusers in the United States and that about two-thirds of them are non-competitive recreational body builders or non-athletes who use these drugs for cosmetic purposes (Kam and Yarrow 686). Amongst these users, there is an increase in muscle pennation and this is associated with high force, low velocity muscle contractions (Libman, Menna, and Gulati 522). These changes increase muscle strength, enhance exercise tolerance and muscle adaptation to overload by protecting against muscle fiber damage, and increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis during recovery (Libman, Menna, and Gulati 522).
Although the use of AAS have many benefits, such as their ability to enhance collagen synthesis and increase bone mineralisation through a direct suppression on osteoclasts, there are also a variety of physical and mental health risks associated with such usage (Kam and Yarrow 687). Even with qualified medical supervision, there is serious health risks associated with prolonged use of AAS. Despite the fact that health benefits can also be obtained, it can be seriously detrimental for youth or unsupervised individuals to use these drugs, especially if their supply stems from ambiguous origins. Although the social pressure to achieve ideals of physical perfection can be intense, using AAS to further this cause can be dangerous and potentially fatal.
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