Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Skinny on Steroids

Many people take steriods to gain an athletic advantage or to achieve a more fit physical appearance. Experts say the best way to a healthy body is through proper diet and normal physical exercises, like weightlifting. Some professional sports, like baseball, didn't have a comprehensive steroid testing policy, sparking a media frenzy and congressional hearings. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and the Player's Association agreed to toughen steroid penalties.

Graphic illustration by Chris Walz

In an age of health conciousness, the reality -- and mortality -- of anabolic steroids is inherent. Virginia Rep. Thomas Davis said steroids are "a national public health crisis" and "it would be irresponsible if the government chose not to get involved." Thomas' comments came during congressional hearings on steroid abuse in professional baseball.

Former baseball slugger Jose Canseco's tell-all book sparked a media frenzy and congressional hearings on the prevalence of steroids in professional sports.

Some of America's most popular sports stars told the Senate under oath that they did not use anabolic steroids. A few weeks later, one of those players -- Rafael Palmeiro -- tested positive for steroids and served a ten game suspension. Palmeiro maintains he took a B-12 shot from a teammate and didn't know the shot actually contained a steroid.

"Let's be clear: This is a national public health crisis," said Virginia Rep. Thomas Davis. "It would be irresponsible if the government chose not to get involved."

The Defense Department does not test Sailors for steroid use, but military doctors don't believe steroids are prevalent in the Armed Forces.

LCDR Patrick Clyde, National Naval Medical Center endocrinologist, said in the six years he's been doing endocrinology for the Navy he has only seen two steroid related cases at the most.

"Many people take steroids to find a short cut to achieving some sort of outcome in personal appearance or athletic achievement," said Clyde. "They think steroids will provide them with an advantage of some sort, but what they don't take in to account are the negative side effects steroids cause."

Anabolic steroids simulate the body's natural hormone, known as testosterone, primarily responsible for increased muscle mass, facial hair and deepened voices in males. When a user takes anabolic steroids and exaggerates the production of testosterone, muscle tissue is stimulated and begins to grow larger and stronger.

"The Navy does not randomly test for steroids," said HMC Nathaniel Jackson, Human Resources Department head. "However, if there is a suspicion that a Sailor is using steroids, a physician must request for testing to be done."

Androstenedione is an androgenic steroid that breaks down into testosterone, according to Baseball player and potential hall-of-famer Mark McGwire admitted taking the controversial, yet legal, drug in 1998, the same season he broke Roger Maris' record of most home runs in a season. McGwire and Canseco were teammates in the 1990s with the Oakland A's, but McGwire denies ever using illegal performance-enhancing steroids.

Over a period of time, users may begin to experience baldness, acne, oily skin or a heart attack. Some people may experience hormonal rages, often called "Roid Rage."

"Using synthetic hormones may rob a person's [normal] hormone production," Clyde said. "In doing this, a person may experience infertility and other side effects. If an adolescent were to take hormones, it would greatly effect his or her bone development, possibly stopping it completely.

"Anabolic steroids may also effect users mood and personality greatly," Clyde said. "Users may become more aggressive and irritable causing them to make judgements they otherwise would not make."

A National Institute of Drug Abuse study found users, particularly those who use anabolic steroids in large doses, commit aggressive acts or resort to fighting. Furthermore, research also shows users experience severe mood swings, manic episodes, depression, paranoia, jealousy, delusions and feelings of invincibility.

Although using anabolic steroids recreationally is illegal, steroids are often used for medical purposes. Corticosteroid, a medically prescribed steroid, is an anti-inflammatory drug designed to treat inflamed lungs or arthritis. Inhaled corticosteroids relieve inflammation to open airways and make breathing easier.

Lauren Thomas, Health Promotion dietician, suggests working hard is the best way to get that perfect body.

"It's a common misconception that you have to eat a lot of extra protein to add lean body mass," Thomas said. "Eating a healthy diet and doing weight training is the proper way to add muscle."