Question of the Week
December 6, 2004

Recently, there has been a lot on the news about steroids and baseball. From a health aspect, there is more to the testimony of Barry Bonds than the negative effects of steroids.

*To access the Question of the Week from November of 2003 that addresses the health concerns and sports ethics associated with steroid use, please visit our archives:

True, if he knew that he was taking steroids without a medical need and the guidance of a doctor, then he made an unhealthy choice. However, he is testifying that he didn't know that what he was taking was, in fact, steroids. This raises even more health questions and concerns.

To be clear:

"Bonds testified to a grand jury that he used a clear substance and a cream given to him by a trainer who was indicted in a steroid-distribution ring, but said he didn't know they were steroids, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday. Bonds told the federal grand jury last year that Greg Anderson, his personal trainer and childhood friend, told him the substances he used in 2003 were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis, according to a transcript of his testimony reviewed by the Chronicle.... Rains described Anderson and Bonds as close friends who had been training together for about the last four years. 'Greg knew what Barry's demands were. Nothing illegal,' Rains said at a news conference in Oakland. 'This is Barry's best friend in the world. Barry trusted him. He trusts him today.'"

When comparing Bonds' descriptions of the products that he took with the product line at the company from which they came, it appears that he was most likely taking EPO and HGH--rather than "flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis."

"Erythropoietin, (EPO), a glycoprotein hormone produced primarily by cells of the peritubular capillary endothelium of the kidney, is responsible for the regulation of red blood cell production. Secondary amounts of the hormone are synthesized in liver hepatocytes of healthy adults...."

"Epoetin ( eh-POH-ee-tin) is a man-made version of human erythropoietin (EPO). If the body does not produce enough EPO, severe anemia can occur. This often occurs in people whose kidneys are not working properly. Epoetin is used to treat severe anemia in these people. Epoetin may also be used to prevent or treat anemia caused by other conditions, such as AIDS, cancer, or surgery, as determined by your doctor. Epoetin is given by injection. It is available only with your doctor's prescription..."

"Human growth hormone [HGH] is made naturally in the pituitary gland of humans, deep inside the brain just behind the eyes. It is a microscopic protein substance that is secreted in short pulses during the first hours of sleep and after exercise....HGH has found a wide range of other uses now that it can be synthesised in unlimited quantities in the laboratory. It is used, for example, to reverse muscle wasting in AIDS patients. But this has led many athletes to consider using the hormone as a performance-enhancer, increasing their muscle size and strength.... Many of the claims made for HGH have a doubtful scientific basis.
Does HGH have side effects?
Studies have shown that elevated levels of HGH can lead to swelling of the soft tissues in the body; abnormal growth of the hands, feet and face; high blood pressure; an increased tendency to sweat and excessive hair growth."

EPO and HGH both have prescription uses when taken to help with doctor diagnosed medical conditions. When a patient is handed a prescription medication, there is often a list of side-effects and warning signs handed over the counter, as well. There is also a certain degree of certainty that what is in the bottle is the same as what is on the label.

The only way to know what possible problems are associated with what you are taking is to know what you are taking.

As a patient (working with your doctor--and possibly your parents, depending on your age), you need to determine whether the positive side-effects of the medication outweigh the negative (this may require more information than is included on that piece of paper offered by the pharmacist).

This does not just apply to prescription or illegal medication. Is it an herb? Is it an over the counter supplement? Is it an over the counter cold or sleep medication? What about caffeine? If you do not know what you are taking, then you cannot make an educated decision about your health.

If you are offered a medication, herb, or supplement by a friend, then you have even more research to do. Is your friend sure it is what he/she says it is? Before you can begin to research a product, you need to be sure of what it is for yourself. You are the one who is going to need to live with the consequences of taking it.

Does it change the way your body works? Will you be more awake? More relaxed? Happier? Stronger? More focused? Keep in mind, that in order to get that desired effect, the product has to be doing something to your body.

"How do drugs work? Drugs are chemicals or substances that change the way our bodies work. When you put them into your body (often by swallowing, inhaling, or injecting them), drugs find their way into your bloodstream and are transported to parts of your body, such as your brain. In the brain, drugs may either intensify or dull your senses, alter your sense of alertness, and sometimes decrease physical pain. A drug may be helpful or harmful. The effects of drugs can vary depending upon the kind of drug taken, how much is taken, how often it is used, how quickly it gets to the brain, and what other drugs, food, or substances are taken at the same time."

What about supplements?

"Steroidal supplements are often sold at health food stores or gyms. The effects of steroidal supplements aren't well known, but it's thought that, when taken in large doses, they cause effects similar to stronger anabolic steroids like testosterone. Here's what is known: companies that manufacture steroidal supplements often make claims that are false and very little is known about the long-term effects on the body of some of these substances."

Non-steroidal supplements (which can also be available in health food stores) can also make changes in how your body works that you should be aware of before taking them--or offering them to someone else.

Different people have different bodies that react differently to different products. Just because it has never caused your friend any trouble, doesn't mean it is right for you (and just because you don't have a problem with it, does not mean it will necessarily be safe for your friend).

Whether you are in the gym or at a party, taking care of your body means knowing--and understanding--what is going into it. To deprive someone of that knowledge is not only unsafe, but unfair to the person who will have to live with the consequences.

"It might seem like Œjust fun‚, but many young people have gotten into serious trouble when someone has put something into their drink without their knowledge. Sometimes alcohol is added to drinks that appear to be free of alcohol. Sometimes other drugs are added. The person whose drink is "spiked" could become very sick, or try to do something that is dangerous (like driving while affected by the alcohol or drug), or even be sexually assaulted."

The above link also includes "things that can be done by young people to help keep themselves safe" in a party situation. In the case of Barry Bonds, he either chose to take steroids and lie in court, or he chose to not get all the facts before taking something offered by a friend. Either way, he is the one who will have to live with the physical, personal, and career-oriented consequences of his decision.

Questions of the Week:
What do you need to know about a food, drink, drug, or supplement before you put it in your body? Where can you get reliable and balanced information about the effects of the substance and any possible side-effects? When should you question what is offered to you? How do you question it when it is a friend who offers and/or how do you say no if you are still concerned? How do you express your concerns about a substance that you know little to nothing about--even if you don't want to admit that you don't know much about it?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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