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
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:
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."
(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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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?
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."
(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
just 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