Our QUEST story on the science of anabolic steroids, how they affect the body, and the super-smart sleuths who are using science to catch the cheaters who abuse them, turned up some interesting information. For one thing, I was surprised to learn that according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s fact sheet about anabolic-androgenic steroids, nearly 2 percent of 10th graders (both boys and girls) admitted to using steroids at some point. Now that may not seem like much, but when you think about the devastating consequences that steroids can have on the body, such as jaundice, kidney failure, and infertility, that’s pretty alarming. One could even argue that there’s a trickle-down effect when high-school athletes hear allegations of steroid abuse amongst professional athletes and see the athletes continue to pull down multimillion dollar contracts while winning accolades and national titles.
It’s nice to know that there are scientists like Terry Sheehan and other high-tech chemists who have the high-tech tools like liquid chromatography and gas chromatography to identify the cheaters in the elite sporting competitions, like the upcoming Beijing Olympics and Tour de France. Clearly the temptation to cheat is great but as the case of Marion Jones has illustrated recently, the fall from grace if you’re caught is swift and unremitting. At the end of June, Floyd Landis lost his last appeal to try and hang onto his 2006 Tour de France title. At the time, he vehemently denied that he used testosterone, instead claiming that he naturally has high levels of testosterone. This year’s Tour de France has also been riven by positive doping results for several cyclists who tested positive for EPO, a banned substance that is naturally produced by the kidneys and stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
The other thing that I discovered when researching this QUEST story was how prevalent the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing illicit substances are amongst “average” people and amateur/semi-pro athletes. Granted, I can only speak anecdotally but there were quite a few personal trainers in the Bay Area with whom I spoke who mentioned how easily available anabolic steroids and increasingly, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), is in the gym-going and semi-pro cage-fighting and weightlifting community. Nowadays, it’s not even necessarily the lure of big bucks or stardom that is enticing people to risk their health by abusing steroids, EPO, HGH or other substances. It seems that the quest for a youthful, fit appearance is enough of a motivator to make some people do so.