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…. For my eyes only

Another John writes:

So torn. I agree on the Knapp angle completely. However, John seems to be saying that liver damage and the like are “urban myths.” Since I know John reads Will Carroll, I’d be curious how he squares this stance with Carroll’s great piece on December 8, 2004 on Baseball Prospectus which alludes to some of these same consequences and seems to indicate that they are well understood in the medical and pharmaceutical community. According to Carroll’s sources, however, some of these consequences flow from not using appropriate dosages. Still, I find it hard to accept that these side effects are simply “urban myths.”

I am a BP Premium subscriber, and a good friend of Will’s. I am familiar with the column John is referring to. In it, the pharmacist quoted by Will sticks to the basics:

…. The effects of steroids–building muscle, easing recovery–are well known. There are a number of diseases for which anabolic and androgenic steroids can make a great difference, such as multiple sclerosis, AIDS and some forms of cancer. The side effects, however, expand as doses extend. “Bodybuilders, and I use that term because that’s where we’re used to seeing this, use doses that are often literally those a veterinarian would use,” the pharmacist told me. “If one is good, two is better. If two is better, ten is great. Unfortunately, as they see the results they want, they also see the results they don’t.”

Side effects include increased moodiness, hair loss (or gain in women), acne, and breast growth in men. Internally, cholesterol (itself a steroid) is affected, reducing HDL counts. HDL is the “good” cholesterol. They can stimulate tumor growth, create liver problems and suppress blood clotting. The effects on sexual glands are great as well. “Pump enough of anything natural into the body and the body adjusts,” the pharmacist told me. “If it’s there, the body realizes it doesn’t need to make its own and stops. It’s just that simple. If you keep pumping in steroids and the testosterone levels raise, why should the testicles bother? Eventually, it’s ‘use it or lose it’–the body doesn’t feed what it doesn’t need and the testicles can visibly shrink.”

Nothing new there, again, as a natural-born cynic, I have to ask, how does Will’s pharmacist know that? I have a family member who is a pharmacist, and he and I had a long conversation about steroids and their side effects. He can make the same argument, he can list them out, and claim that they are based in facts, but he has no idea where those “facts” came from. I don’t know where the studies are that have been done that prove that any of these side effects happen, and to what degree. Forget about prove, how about studies that just show some possible causality. How about anecdotal evidence that has been catalogued and categorized and investigated? Where is this stuff?

Here is a Journal of the American Medical Association study on steroids and weight-training. The authors concluded that there were no benefits from using steroids while weight-training. Here’s a hypothesis that concludes that using steroids can cause addiction. It’s only a hypothesis, mind you, but it’s been cited in other steroids studies numerous times. Here’s another that illustrates my point exactly. In it, the researcher interviewed ten women athletes who were using anabloic steroids, and listed the side effects these women described. You know the list. My point isn’t that there are or aren’t side effects. The point is that this is published in the JAMA, and it is an anecdotal survey. What steroids were taken, how often, at what dose, in combination with what other PED’s? All of these questions are unanswerable. Here’s a study that claims the following:

CONCLUSION–This is the first placebo-controlled prospective study demonstrating the adverse and activating mood and behavioral effects of anabolic steroids.”

In this study, the first ever to prove a connection between anabolic steroids use and mood swings, one volunteer out of twenty had what the authors described as an acute manic episode. The other mood changes (which were observed roughly 5% of the time) were, among many, euphoria, irritability, forgetfulness, hostility; you know, like how people feel all the time. Mind you, we’re talking about the first ever scientific study to associate mood swings with anabolic steroids use.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; if you have it, I’ll publish it here. If you know where it is, send me there. It isn’t at the government’s own anti-drug website, NIDA, which offers little more than a letter telling us steroids are bad. As for evidence, the medical community acknowledges that there are limited long-term studies on steroids. They admit it all the time. They did it here, during their Council on Scientific Affairs in 1990.

“Concern over the known adverse effects, the limited research into the long-term effects, and the ethics of engineering body size and performance through anabolic-androgenic steroid use has led to legislative, legal, and education responses….” (italics mine)

I am not a chemist or a scientist. I am a critical reader. From what I have read, the list of side effects associated with steroids could hardly be described as life-threatening; or even very dramatic; it’s possible this could happen, maybe that could happen. There seems to be little proof of these side effects, other than to say, lots of people think they are real. Even if it’s a given that high doses of steroids can be said to have side effects, these side effects certainly don’t seem to be any worse than the side effects for almost any of the prescription drugs you can find advertised on television these days. Why is it OK for everyone to take Viagra, but if a professional athlete wants access to something that can sustain his body over the long haul of the season, it’s a tragedy?

Will is interviewing experts; and I am looking forward to reading his book. He’s an excellent writer, his work is very thorough and well-researched. I like to think that my efforts on the subject have been pretty thorough, too. In my humble opinion, the vast majority of what is written and said about steroids is transparent, one more example of propaganda.


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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