Athletes who use anabolic steroids gain
muscle mass and strength, but they also
destroy their kidney function, according to a
study by the Columbia University Medical
Centre (U.S.) which was presented at the
annual meeting of the American Society of
Nephrology in San Diego. The findings
indicate that regular steroid use has serious
effects on the kidneys which researchers
were previously unaware of.
The researchers, headed by Leal Herlitz,
carried out the first study to look at kidney
problems following long-term anabolic
steroid abuse. They studied a group of 10
body builders who had been using steroids for
many years, and had developed a disorder in
which they were losing proteins through
their urine, along with other serious kidney
The tests revealed that 9 out of the 10 body
builders had developed a disorder called
focal segmental glomerulosclerosis - a type
of scarring of the kidneys. The illness is
usually caused by an excessive over-working
of the kidneys.
Doping casts a dark shadow over many
different sporting competitions,
including the Olympic Games.
Perhaps the most famous case of
doping is that of Canadian sprinter Ben
Johnson, who won the 100m gold
medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In
doing so he broke Carl Lewis’s world
record, which until then was
considered unbeatable. However,
Johnson tested positive for the use of
anabolic steroids. He was stripped of
his gold medal and the world record,
and suspended from any form of
competition for two years. This was
changed to a life suspension in 1993,
when he again tested positive for a
Clenbuterol is an anabolic
(a substance that imitates
promotes muscle growth.
For this reason it is used
by athletes to improve
their performance. The
World Anti-Doping Agency
lists it as a banned
traces of it are often found
in foods such as beef.
Andy Schleck during stage 1 of the 2009 Tour de France.
Training at altitude may help athletes gain a competitive edge at sea level; altitude exposure also presents problems to athletes, and these could possibly cancel out benefits
Even moderate altitudes can have a significant effect on athletic performance. Click to see the effects on physical performance at altitude.
All athletes seek a competitive advantage. Although the benefits of some interventions (like training, for example) are clear, most strategies are less well-proven. Altitude is no
exception to this. Training at high altitude has been used by competitive athletes as a means of improving their performance. However, despite a good deal of research into the
subject, its true effects and a recommended approach are still not well established. Additionally, altitude training is usually expensive and fraught with logistical problems.
Benefits of Altitude Exposure
Exposure to high altitude could theoretically improve an athlete’s capacity to exercise. Exposing the body to high altitude causes it to acclimatise to the lower level of oxygen
available in the atmosphere. Many of the changes that occur with acclimatization improve the delivery of oxygen to the muscles -the theory being that more oxygen will lead to
For any type of exercise lasting longer than a few minutes, the body must use oxygen to generate energy. Without it, muscles simply seize up and can become damaged. This
type of exercise is called aerobic exercise, meaning with oxygen.
The body naturally produces a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) which stimulates the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the muscles. Up to a point, the
more blood cells you have, the more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles. There are also a number of other changes that happen during acclimatization which may help
athletic performance, including an increase in the number of small blood vessels, an increase in buffering capacity (ability to manage the build up of waste acid) and changes in
the microscopic structure and function of the muscles themselves.
Problems of Altitude Exposure
However, acclimatization to high altitude is not simple, and there are a number of other
effects that could cancel out the benefits. For example the increase in red blood cells
comes at a cost - having too many blood cells makes the blood thicker and can make
blood flow sluggish. This makes it harder for your heart to pump it round the body, and can
actually decrease the amount of oxygen getting to where it is needed.
At very high altitudes (>5000m), weight loss is unavoidable because your body actually
consumes your muscles in order to provide energy. There is even a risk that the body’s
immune system will become weakened, leading to an increased risk of infections, and
there may be adverse changes in the chemical make-up of the muscles. Additionally, the
body cannot exercise as intensely at altitude. This results in reduced training intensity,
which can reduce performance in some sports. At very high altitudes, further problems are
encountered: loss of appetite, inhibition of muscle repair processes and excessive work in
breathing. On top of this, there is the problem of altitude illnesses, which can dramatically
reduce the capacity to be active at altitude, or foreshorten the exposure to high altitude
In order to increase the volume of oxygen available, reduce fatiguing, and improve
performance, some sportspeople use transfusions of their own blood. “Blood doping”, as
it is called, is also a banned form of doping. It involves extracting a quantity of blood from
the athlete’s own body (between 20 to 30 percent of their total body blood volume) and
conserving it in a refrigerator. To enhance the benefits, it is extracted after several weeks
of high-altitude training, at at least 2000m above sea level, because of its higher
oxygenation. The body needs to be given sufficient time to replace the blood which is
removed, and restore natural levels. A couple of weeks before competition, the
competitors own blood is reinjected into their body, increasing the blood volume and
oxygenation, and making them more fatigue-resistant. Since blood is a natural substance,
it is difficult to detect this doping method, however it can be achieved through a count of
blood cells (erythrocytes). The risks involved range from contracting an illness during the
extraction, storage, and reinjection, through to thrombosis (the formation of a clot,
known as a thrombus) in a vein or artery, which impedes normal blood flow and may
even lead to a heart attack. Since blood doping is now detectable, some sportspeople
currently prefer to use synthetic erythropoietin (EPO). In its natural form, this substance
is a hormone produced by the body to stimulate the production of red blood cells and
increase blood volume. A test to detect the use of EPO was developed in 2000.
Erythropoietin, commonly known
as EPO, is a hormone which
stimulates the growth of red blood
cells, along with other effects. In
other words, it improves physical
performance by helping deliver
more oxygen to muscles.
Armstrong was categorical when he
affirmed “it was impossible to win the
Tour without doping”. He also said in
an interview “I don’t want to accuse
anyone else… I made my decisions.
They are my mistake”. The Texan
said that “I viewed this situation as
one big lie… I didn’t feel as if I was
cheating, in my view, doping was
part of the job.” He admits to having
taking all kinds of banned
substances: “My coctail was EPO,
but not a lot, transfusions, and
The use of EPO or similar substances, such as recombinant
human Erythropoietin (rHuEPO), as a doping method for
improving athletic performance is prohibited. The “positive”
effects of EPO are due to its increasing the erythrocyte mass
(leading to an increase in the haematocrit). It improves
performance in aerobic activities, thereby increasing
endurance. According to a 2007 study, the use of rHuEPO by
healthy individuals produced a 6.4% increase in maximum
oxygen consumption (VO2 max), due primarily to a 10%
increase in haemoglobin.
was expelled from the 1999 Giro de Italia after high
hematocrit levels were detected in a blood sample.
Although it was not able to be proven conclusively,
this suggested that he had used EPO. From then on
he was continually subjected to accusations of doping
- accusations which he always rejected. On February
14, 2004 the climbing specialist was found dead in an
Italian hotel room, during a period in which he was
suffering from depression. The official autopsy report
eventually established that he had died from a
Some commonly-prescribed pharmaceuticals for the treatment of colds and flu
may contain stimulants such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norephedrine,
and phenylephrine. What happens if a sportsperson inadvertently takes one of
these products to treat a cold?
Among the drugs used by sportspeople, the most common are stimulants (mainly amphetamines)
and anabolic steroids.
Stimulants such as epinephrine, ephedrine, and norephedrine act upon the adrenal glands and
the central nervous system, increasing the heart rate, arterial pressure, muscular tension, and
The effect of stimulants on glands encourages the secretion of adrenaline, a hormone which
places the body in a state of alert. The person becomes more attentive, sleep- and fatigue-
resistant, and feels more disposed to participate in competitive activities. Stimulants also make
the symptoms of fatigue less perceptible in the central nervous system, which can lead to the user
overexerting themselves, possibly even to the point of death. Body temperature also increases
beyond that produced by normal exercise. After some time this may lead to respiratory and
cardiovascular difficulties, and even collapse.
Stimulants are used in sports requiring aggression (such as boxing and wrestling) or constantly
high effort levels (cycling, track and field), because they provoke feelings of hostility, aggression
and strength in those who use them. The secondary effects range from paranoia, insomnia and
antisocial behavior, through to addiction to other drugs such as barbiturates, which are used to
promote sleep in amphetamine users. In this way, a series of ups and downs begin which alter
cardiac rhythms and may even lead to death through the decompensation of the nervous system.
The Cuban high-jumper was suspended for two years in 1999 for
cocaine use. The International Athletics Federation issued the
suspension citing “exceptional circumstances” after he was
awarded the silver medal in the Sydney Olympic Games with a
jump of 2.29 meters, having trained for barely over three
months. He retired at the age of 34.
The effect of diuretics on the human organism –
specifically on the kidneys – is to increase urine
excretion. This is generally achieved by increasing
the elimination of sodium chloride from the
kidneys, which is followed passively by water,
through an osmotic mechanism.
The end result of the action of these
pharmaceuticals is to increase renal salt and water
loss, producing an increased volume of urine, with
a subsequent reduction in weight.
Diuretics: Some athletes also use
diuretics to help them pass
doping tests. The increased
volume of urine dilutes the
concentration of other drugs,
making it difficult to identify their
Doping through Sex Change
During the 70s and 80s, the German Democratic
Republic shone brightly and emerged as a world
sporting power. At that time, sport was considered a
political tool, due largely to the representative value that
sportspeople offered their country, and especially given
the extensive media coverage of big events. However,
after winning 403 medals in international sporting
events, 151 of which were gold, the German athletes
were found to be involved in what The New York Times
described as one giant secret.
One of the most distinct cases of “State Doping” was that of
Shot-putter Heidi Krieger, who had to undergo sex-change
surgery due to the use of drugs, and is currently living
under the name Andreas Krieger.
She began to ingest male sex hormones from the age of 16
under orders from her trainers and doctors, as did all the
sportspeople of her generation.
The quantities of the doses she was given led to an
imbalance in her organism. Assisted by the hormones she
was ingesting, after 14 days she was capable of lifting 100
The Unfortunate Semenya Case
It all began during last month’s Athletics World Championships in Berlin,
Germany. While Usain Bolt was being praised for his records in the 100 and
200 meters, South African Caster Semenya was being recriminated for her
physical appearance: a muscular body, deep voice, and impressive race
times aroused doubts about the 18-year-old athlete’s gender.
Lista de substancias prohibidas