An Investigation Into Athlete Steriod Use

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Steroids are organic compounds that are found in many different arenas. Scientifically speaking, steroids are organic structures composed mostly of carbon atoms, known as cycloalkanes that are fused together in ring form. Cycloalkanes are hydrogen and carbon chemical structures that are organic in nature. They are known to have high boiling points, melting points and densities than the typical alkane due to the London forces that bind them together. The London forces are the molecular forces that act between atoms and molecules of a steroid, among other atomic structures. Each steroid is “composed of seventeen carbon atoms.” (Steroids) These rings provide basis for what the steroid’s purpose is and what kind of steroid it is. Steroids undergo biosynthesis. This biosynthesis is a metabolic process that produces steroids through a precursor process.

Diagram of a steroid biosynthetic pathway

Steroids are made from various plants, animals and fungi.

A German scientist named Arnold Berthold was first to deem the discovery of steroids. Demonstrating that “a substance produced in the testes played a role in the development of male sexual characteristics, he observed that when rooster testes were transplanted into the abdomen of roosters from whom they had been removed, the roosters developed normal male characteristics, thus showing that testes contained a substance responsible for the development of the male features.” (Steroids: High-Risk Performance Drugs)

General scientific structure of a steroid

The varying steroid classifications are plant, animal, and fungus. The plant steroids are divided into two separate categories: phytosterols and brassinosteroids. Phytosterols “occur naturally in small quantities in vegetable oil, corn oil and soybean oil.” (Steroids). Phytosterols are white in color and appearance and are insoluble in water. Phytosterols are primarily used in lowering cholesterol. Used as food additives, phytosterols, allow for less cholesterol to be absorbed into the body’s bloodstream and intestines. The FDA has claimed that phytosterols “reduce cholesterol in humans by up to 15%” (Steroids). There are some potential risks with phytosterols, as with all steroids. Phytosterols have been seen to promote atherosclerosis, by accumulating in the valves of the heart.

Brassinosteroids are hormones derived from plants. Known as BRs, brassinosteroids are biosynthesized. They have been shown to “counteract both abiotic and biotic stress in plants.” (Steroids). Brassinosteroids were first examined in a study on stem elongation.

Animal steroids compound many diverse categories such as insect steroids and vertebrate steroids. Insect steroids such as ecydsteroids naturally occur in arthropod metamorphosis, while vertebrate steroids span into different subcategories such as steroid hormones and cholesterol hormones.

Steroid hormones are crafted from cholesterol, and typically classified into five different groups. The five groups are determined by what receptors in the body they respond to. The five groups are mineralocoricoids, androgens, estrogens, progestagens, and glucocortoids. Since steroid hormones are fat soluble, they easily bind to receptors in the body; therefore carrying out their designated functions.

Sex steroids are hormones that interact with the receptors of the male and female reproductive organs. Steroids are created in the gonads and the adrenal glands of the body. There are three types of steroids: androgens, which include testosterone, anabolic steroids, androstenedione, deheydroepiandrosterone; estrogens, which include estradiol, estriol and estrone; and progestagens, which includes progesterone. Androgens are known for being the male sex hormones, while estrogens and progestagens are considered to be the feminine hormones.

The second grouping of vertebrate steroids is the corticosteroids, which deal with the metabolism in the body, and the excretion of electrolytes of the renal system. The final group, cholesterol, keeps the body’s cell membranes fluid.

Fungus steroids, also known as ergosterols, created from yeast and fungus cell membranes are synthesized into Vitamin D, mostly. The Vitamin D that is created is used as supplement to diet of vegans. The body eliminates steroids by oxidation and through bile acid excreted by the liver.

Steroids have been used since the 1930s, for medical use such as “delayed puberty, impotence, and many diseases. Steroids, however, have often become habit forming. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has many publications on their website on steroid abuse. Many professional athletes have been known to use steroids or to be doping. Doping is “the use of a substance or method that is potentially harming to the athlete’s health and/or is capable of enhancing performance.” (What Is Doping?)

Many athletes take anabolic-androgenic steroids, which are “synthetically produced variants of the naturally occurring male sex hormone testosterone.” (NIDA InfoFacts: Steroids) Anabolic meaning, muscle building, and androgenic, meaning male sexual characteristics, athletes have used these variants to increase their muscle mass and physical appearance. These particular steroids are typically taken in oral form, injected in cycles or in pyramiding. The cycles, also known as cycling, are when the steroids “are taken for periods of weeks or months,” (NIDA InfoFacts: Steroids) and then discontinued for awhile and restarted. Pyramiding is known as slowly getting the body used to the steroid then taking a massive amount once the body has become dependent on the steroid.

Diagram of an anabolic steroid

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Since the abuse of steroids rose to an all time high, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have been adamantly opponents of anabolic steroid use. In 2006, the Director at National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, released a research report on how steroid abuse has become prevalent in high school and the illegality behind steroid use. In her report, she illustrates a table to show the differences in how steroids are perceived by seniors in high school at that time versus in 1998. Her report lists commonly used oral and inject steroids as well.

In 1998, Dr. Volkow found that “68.1% of 12th graders had a perceived harmfulness of steroids, while in 2005; it had dropped to 56.8%” (Anabolic Steroid Use). She also in the report specifically describes the various uses of steroids in athletes. Dr. Volkow discusses how steroids affect the behavior as they “increase irritability, and aggression.” She says that “some steroid abusers report that they have committed aggressive acts such as physical fighting, armed robbery, theft, vandalism or burglary.” (Anabolic Steroid Use) In the conclusion of the steroid report, Dr. Volkow describes how schools should be conducting drug testing programs and how this will indeed decrease steroid use.

Note: Chart is used to show the drop in steroid use between the years in high schoolers due to awareness of perceived harmfulness of steroid use.

Still steroid use has been prevalent in our society. The International Olympic Council “developed a test for the detection of excess levels of testosterone in athletes known as the Testosterone: Epitestosterone test.” (Steroids in Olympics) Developed in 1982, this particular test measures the levels of testosterone levels of a non-athlete to that of an Olympic athlete.

Steroid abuse has remained chartered territory in the media as many athletes have been known to abuse steroids. Recently, Marion Jones, a field Olympic athlete was found guilty of doping and was stripped of her recognition and prize medals. Baseball player, Mark McGuire, admitted to using steroids in 2010 as well.

Steroids are available for purchase over the Internet. Being widely available, steroid abuse has only lessened nominally over the past few years. Steroid use has almost become second nature in body building and athletic training. Many over the counter steroids have become widely popular such as Muscle Milk, a protein shake that provides and “promotes the development of lean muscle, which-along with a regular workout routine-increase endurance, fat-burning and strength” (Muscle Milk). Another recent popular over the counter drug is Force Factor, which “contains nitric oxide and L-Arginine. These in combination with exercise increase weight, body mass and endurance.” On many of these over the counter drugs, sold by many retailers, there is a disclaimer that the FDA has not substantiated their claims.

Termed legal steroids, not on the street and/or black market, many websites such as SteroidSources, promote the use of steroids for educational purposes. In hopes of reducing the abuse of steroids, the website gives a plethora of information as does other sites. These promotional websites do increase the knowledge of steroids to the person seeking them for “educational purposes only.” (SteroidSources)

There are various resources that promote safe use of steroids such as the international journal, Steroids, put out by Elsevier. This particular journal is “devoted to original research on all aspects of steroids. Its focus is on both experimental and theoretical studies in chemistry, physiochemistry, metabolism, molecular biology, physiology, pharmacology, analytical techniques,” among other types of studies. These types of materials keep the public abreast of what steroids are, and display the pros and cons of steroid use.

Steroid abuse has been known to have significant and severe health consequences. The abusing of steroids can do much harm to the overall hormonal, cardiovascular and skeletal system. These side effects surface in different ways on the male than female. These changes and effects are often irreversible. In the male, the hormonal system can cause reduction in “sperm production and testicular shrinkage (testicular atrophy), male-pattern baldness and breast development.” (Anabolic Steroid Use) In the female, steroids can cause “masculinization, breast and body fat decrease, coarse skin, deepening of the voice and the possibility of excessive body hair growth.” (Anabolic Steroid Use)

In the cardiovascular system of humans, steroid abuse has been known to cause heart attacks, strokes excessive levels of lipoproteins in the blood. Lipoproteins are biochemical enzymes, transporters, antigens and structural proteins that allow fat to be carried into the blood. Lipoproteins are classified into two categories, high and low density. The high density lipoproteins are known as the good cholesterol, while the low density lipoproteins are the lipoproteins that are not very good for the body in high doses and are the group of lipoproteins that are the significant driving factor behind artery hardening.

With the high excessive levels of low density lipoproteins in the bloodstream, this is what ultimately leads to hardening of the arteries. The skeletal system is also hazardously affected by steroid abuse. If a high schooler, for example takes steroids, it can elevate sex hormone levels as puberty has usually taken affect during that time. Steroid abuse can also lead to liver issues, skin problems, and many infections.

There are many treatments that have been effective for steroid use such as withdrawal medications that “restore the hormonal system after its disruption by steroid abuse.” (Steroids: High-Risk Performance Drugs) One can quite possibly view steroid abuse as a psychological abuse as well as a physical abuse, therefore, therapy is typically prescribed. Many people require behavioral therapy as well due to the severity of damage that the steroids can do.

Steroids are actively produced by the body, and are necessary for body function. It is the abuse, as with anything that in essence creates a negative connotation surrounding steroids. Through the abuse of steroids as a means to end to enhance performance in the athletic arena, or appearance, steroids have garnered much criticism. From the popularity of such drugs such as Muscle Milk, Force Factor to the underground anabolic steroids, steroids have become a staple in the societal image as being necessary. Many high schoolers succumb to peer pressure as a result of puberty and socialization, thereby taking steroids to enhance themselves, while those in the athletic and non-athletic arena, post high school, seek to boost their images and strength in order to win. It is however, the damaging effects of the steroids that complicate matters and cause serious harm to the bodily function. Since steroids are naturally made by the body, and in many organisms, it will undoubtedly be difficult to cease the distribution of steroids, but through the widely distributed information on the Internet and in schools nowadays, steroid abuse should be minimized, or at the bare minimum nominal. With the increasing awareness of damage that steroids can cause with excessive use, the abuse will cease and steroids will regain their natural organic function instead of being deemed horrid.

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