As Armstrong case unfolds, experts describe doping's harms

October 11, 2012 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter
As armstrong case unfolds, experts describe doping's harms
Heart disease, liver disease and behavior problems are among possible health consequences.

(HealthDay)—In the wake of new allegations around Lance Armstrong's involvement in blood doping, experts are reminding the public of the devastating impact these substances can have on an athlete's health.

The recent report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency accusing seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong (he was recently stripped of those titles) of doping participation shows how deeply the practice is ingrained in cycling, but it's a big problem in others sports as well.

So-called performance-enhancing drugs—such as , anabolic steroids and human growth hormone—may affect almost every system in the body, and have been linked to severe medical and psychiatric side effects.

Add in diuretics to mask all the drugs, and athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs are risking their long-term health, experts say.

One of the most common drugs is erythropoietin, or EPO. "Blood doping using EPO is based on the principle of boosting the production of by enhancing the proliferation and differentiation of certain red blood cell precursor lines," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an attending physician in at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and former sideline physician for the New York Jets football team.

The type of EPO at issue is a synthetic protein used for the treatment of various forms of anemia related to and cancer. It is structurally different than the natural form of EPO present in the body, Glatter said.

"Because EPO increases the body's oxygen-carrying capacity and endurance by increasing red blood , it has been utilized illegally as a performance booster in ," Glatter said.

"Long-term use of EPO can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary emboli—blood clots in the lungs," he added. "This increase in potential for developing such complications is directly linked with the duration of use of EPO."

Less serious effects of long-term use include weight loss, insomnia, muscle pain, depression, dizziness and headaches, Glatter said.

Other widely used compounds include various forms of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, both taken to build muscle mass and strength.

But the downside is substantial. Anabolic steroids can result in aches, baldness, liver and heart disease, mood swings, aggressiveness and increased risk of suicide.

Sexual side effects include shrinking testicles, breast growth in men and reduced sex drive, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

(HGH), another performance-enhancing drug, not only makes bones stronger and muscles bigger, but it also can lead to acromegaly, in which facial and other bones enlarge abnormally, resulting in symptoms like a protruding forehead and jaw.

HGH also can cause an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, heart failure and arthritis, as well as damage the liver, thyroid and vision.

The long-term effects of these drugs aren't really known, said Dr. Alan Rogol, an endocrinologist at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.

But of all these performance-enhancing drugs, steroids are the most concerning, he said. "The long-term effects are likely to be significant," he said.

Specifically, steroids' long-term effects are increased risk for heart disease and behavior problems, and a psychological dependence on them.

"Sorting out the long-term consequences [of steroids] is difficult," Rogol said. "Predicting the long-term effects of growth hormone is even worse."

When these drugs are mixed together, and combined with other behaviors, it is easy to find an association between them and health problems, but hard to pinpoint a specific problem to a single , Rogol said.

Glatter said these drugs offer no health benefit to the athletes who abuse them.

"People are taking on the risks of these drugs without actually needing them," Glatter said. "For these people, there is no medical reason to take these drugs—there is only the risk of devastating side effects."

Explore further: The doping-drug Epo has an impact in the brain

More information: To learn more about the dangers of sports doping, visit the World Anti-Doping Agency.

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Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (3) Oct 11, 2012
So athletes will use both legal and illegal doping and drugs. Frankly, SO WHAT? Why not adapt to this reality and divide up the prizes into categories for those that do and those that don't?

Let them experiment on themselves, knowing that risks are part of the territory. Gold stars for organic, pure competitors, Gold stars for druggies. Why not?
1 / 5 (3) Oct 11, 2012
If people are educated about side effects and go on to use said drugs, LET THEM. Their behavior will contribute to a data base on what and what not to do. Just, simply, adjust the awards accordingly. Take the stigma off the issue.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2012
I would be shocked if there are ANY top level athletes in the world who do not use performance enhancing drugs.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2012
Been doing steroids for years with a 4-weeks on 48-weeks off protocol and without any health problems.

There is use and there is abuse.
Lex Talonis
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2012
Armstrong is an arsehole and so are all his "friends".

Real heroes are clean living, straight forward people - not a pack of cunts rigging the races.

Fuck him.
not rated yet Oct 20, 2012
Lex, obscenities and attitudes won't make the issue go away. A change of attitude and basic assumptions would probably be good for you and all your "friends". Prohibition has never had positive effects on societies that have tried it. Just Say Know!
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2012
Armstrong is an arsehole and so are all his "friends".

Real heroes are clean living, straight forward people - not a pack of cunts rigging the races.

Fuck him.

what is your problem, lex?

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