Many professional athletes won’t deny their drive to win is strong; in such a competitive environment, the use of performance-enhancing drugs has become increasingly common. But at what cost? Keep reading to learn more about the benefits and risks of performance-enhancing drugs.
What Are Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)?
Performance-enhancing drugs are any substance that is taken for a non-medical reason and used at non-pharmacologic doses specifically to improve sports performance.
While some PEDs will increase an athlete’s performance, they’re not without implications. In many cases, the risks of steroids and PEDs outweigh the benefits.
What Are the Most Common PEDs?
Some of the most common performance-enhancing drugs include:
Some of the most common PEDs are anabolic steroids, which increase muscle mass, promote fat loss, and boost strength. The primary anabolic steroid hormone produced by your body is testosterone, and some athletes use synthetic modifications of testosterone to boost their performance. While testosterone and anabolic steroids have approved medical uses, improving athletic performance isn’t one.
A dangerous class of anabolic steroids is often referred to as designer steroids, synthetic steroids that have been created to be undetectable in current drug tests. Intended for athletes looking to improve their performance, they have no approved medical use and haven’t been approved or tested by the FDA.
Androstenedione is produced by the adrenal gland, ovaries, and testes, and is a hormone broken down and converted into testosterone and estradiol (a form of estrogen). Available legally by prescription, androstenedione is a controlled substance. Although many bodybuilding and athletic magazines promote androstenedione’s ability to allow users to train hard and recover quickly, its use as a performance-enhancing drug is illegal in the US.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Human growth hormone (HGH) has anabolic effects like testosterone and steroids. Athletes often take it to improve their strength, muscle mass, and overall performance. However, there is limited clinical evidence to show conclusively whether these outcomes are achieved.
Erythropoietin is a hormone typically used to treat anemia in patients with severe kidney disease. As it increases the movement of oxygen to muscles around the body, epoetin, a synthetic version, is frequently used by athletes to increase their endurance.
Diuretics are a drug that changes your body’s natural balance of electrolytes and fluids, leading to dehydration. They’re often used as masking agents to help athletes pass drug tests as diuretics dilute urine.
Are PEDs Safe?
While some users believe that utilizing lower, carefully calculated doses of performance-enhancing drugs is significantly safer, no clinical studies have compared the safety of different PEDs.
Some performance-enhancing drugs have medical uses and are safe for that purpose. For example, bio-identical testosterone is used in testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) to treat those with low testosterone. However, the higher doses commonly used in competitive sports are linked to an increased risk of side effects and cannot be deemed safe.
The main issue with performance-enhancing drugs (that are not approved for medical use and purchased without a prescription) is that the FDA doesn’t regulate them, so you can’t be entirely sure what’s in them.
What Are the Benefits of Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are widely used to increase athletes’ strength, muscle mass, and fat loss in strength sports, such as powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and bodybuilding.
There are several benefits of steroids, as well as muscle gain, including:
- Increased muscle tissue due to enhanced protein synthesis
- Decreased body fat percentage
- Increased muscle strength
- Enhanced recovery from injury and in-between workouts
- Improved bone mineral density
- Increased muscle endurance
- Improved red blood cell production
What Are the Risks of Steroids?
While there are undoubtedly benefits of steroids when you’re a professional athlete, the side effects and risks can be severe. The long-term effects of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are related to dose and duration, so many risks counter the short-term effects. Plus, it’s important to remember that performance-enhancing drugs are illegal in the US and are prohibited by most sporting organizations.
The risks of steroids and PEDs:
- Increased risk of heart disease including hypertension, stroke, and heart attack from vascular damage or increased size of the heart’s left ventricle
- Aggressive behavior
- Liver damage, especially when steroids or PEDs are taken orally
- Gynecomastia, which is swollen male breast tissue caused by hormonal imbalances
- Decreased natural testosterone production and decreased testicle size
- Infertility due to decreased sperm production
- Male pattern baldness due to the androgenic effects of certain PEDs, although the result may vary depending on the drug used
- Tendon injuries from aggressive muscle growth
- Acne, oily skin, jaundice
As previously mentioned, performance-enhancing drugs are illegal in the US, and anabolic steroids are classified as schedule III drugs. Unlawful possession can result in a year of imprisonment and a minimum fine of $1000 for the first offense. So, in addition to the risks to your health and well-being, there are also potential legal consequences.
If you’re concerned about your athletic performance, consider speaking with a men’s health physician.
At Opt Health, we have specialized men’s health doctors who are available 24/7 and can provide treatment and test results from the comfort of your home. In addition to increasing men’s vitality, we use preventative medicine to help you feel like you again. Contact us if you have any questions or would like to book an appointment.