Athletes are competitive. They go out there to win. But, at all costs? Why are athletes willing to sacrifice their long-term health in order to have one outstanding season? Will it be worth it when they are hooked up to machines in order to stay alive? Many athletes do not think that taking a supplement will harm them. They are strong, tough athletes; nothing can harm them, right? So, they start taking creatine or andro, or both. For the most part they lose body fat, gain strength along with muscle. That sounds great, but that is not always what happens.
Supplements are supposed to be taken to make up for a deficiency in some aspect of a person’s diet. For example, if someone does not like milk and does not eat any foods that contain calcium, they could take a calcium supplement. But, athletes use supplements to lose body fat and gain muscle and strength. Once favored primarily by gung-ho body builders, products that purportedly add muscle and increase strength are now being snapped up by weekend athletes hoping to stay in top form, as well as older adults wanting to stay toned and healthy as they age (“Drugs” 8). These sports supplements are not being used correctly, and this causes problems down the road for users.
There are different types of supplements. Creatine monohydrate, generally known as creatine is a popularly used supplement. Creatine occurs naturally in muscles, but many athletes or body builders take it to increase their strength and size. When using muscles, a chemical called ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) is broken down into ADP (adenosine DI-phosphate) and an inorganic phosphate. The release of the phosphate is what gives the muscles energy.
Creatine, the naturally occurring kind, or the kind that comes in a jar, combines with phosphate and can restore ADP back to ATP. Theoretically, this means more energy. But it does not come without a price. The manufacturers and advertisers for Creatine tell people they should use the product because muscles contain an average of 3.5 to 4 grams of naturally occurring creatine per kilogram of muscle. They say the good news is that up to 5 grams may be stored.
So, by using their product, you can use your full potential of muscle energy (“Creatine” 1). Basically what the company is telling you is to pay an outrageous amount of money to add 1 gram on creatine to your muscles. Also, taking creatine has many side effects, just as other supplements do. This is because this type of creatine is pure. The body gets its natural creatine from red meat. But, red meat is not one hundred percent creatine. The body cannot handle the potency of this supplement.
Androstenedione (Andro) is a hormonally based supplement that is supposed to help weight lifters add muscle. Andro is taken orally and goes to the liver. The liver destroys most of what is ingested, but what does survive combines with various enzymes and temporarily boosts testosterone levels. This boost in testosterone allows an athlete to perform at a level above what he usually does. “Androstendione is an honest-to-goodness steroid and a precursor to testosterone” (Andro, 4).
If an athlete takes andro before he goes to the gym, he will be able to lift more, and thus increase strength and size. Although it is not legally considered an anabolic steroid at this time, andro acts exactly as they do. “Many endocrinologists insist that the differences between supplements like androstenedione and traditional steroids (which are legal only for certain medical conditions) are trivial” (Andro 6). In Canada a prescription is needed to get andro, but in the US it is an over-the-counter drug (Andro1). If they essentially have the same effects, then one should not be illegal and the other legal.
“The American College of Sports Medicine says anabolic steroids such as androstenedione as well as other ‘dietary supplements’ should be reevaluated and considered drugs” (Sibbald 1). Taking steroids is known to cause many health problems. Yes, they do make people better athletes, but they are illegal and athletes should not use them.
DHEA is a supplement in the same “family” as andro, called pro-hormones. DHEA also raises the testosterone levels in the body. There is very little scientific support of these pro-hormones. In fact, some preliminary evidence suggests that they may be counterproductive. In a well-controlled study just published in the American Journal of the American Medical Association, androstenedione failed to boost muscle mass, strength and testosterone levels; instead, it hiked estrogen levels, which could potentially boost body fat instead of muscle (“Drugs” 8). In that same study, the pro-hormone DHEA increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and also raised the estrogen levels in the body. This could potentially cause an enlargement of the breasts in men (“Drugs” 8).
Why would an athlete want to risk major health problems and developing breasts? Good old-fashioned hard work is the way to get ahead in sports. When things sound too good to be true, they usually are. Advertisers initially said that supplements had no side effects whatsoever. Basically, creatine and andro sounded like wonder drugs. More strength and muscle mass, less fat, and no negative side effects! Wrong!
“Two companies that market muscle-building nutritional supplements … agreed Tuesday to stop claiming they were free of side effects under a settlement announced Tuesday by Federal regulators” (“Makers” 1). The companies were originally claiming no negative side effects. But, they had no evidence to back this up. Once scientists actually started conducting tests, they realized the companies were claiming a lie. These supplements have many negative side effects. “‘Steroid hormones, whether labeled as drugs or hormones, can have side effects long after their use,’ says Dr. Ga!
ry Wadler, an American expert in sports-related drug use” (Sibbald 2). Many doctors and experts in the field of sports medicine are very concerned with the use of sports supplements. “Our concern is that many of the newer substances have but yet been tested for their long-term physiological and potentially adverse effects” (Sibbald 2), says Wadler.
If these products are coming out onto the market with out previous testing being done, the users are put at great risk for harm. It has also been reported that once the athlete stops taking the supplement, all of the muscle that they gained while taking the supplement will be turned into fat. If that is not incentive to not take these things, then nothing is. These athletes should realize that they would not be able to take the drugs forever without serious side effects. The manufacturers do not even have to prove that their products are safe before marketing them (Sibbald 2).
There needs to be more regulations on sports supplements in order to protect consumers. People who go out and purchase sports supplements often later regret doing so. One man who took creatine posted his story on an informational web site about creatine use. “I took creatine and took the recommended dose and almost had a double kidney failure from that crap…” (“Consumers” 2). Is it worth it to risk major organ failure to be a little bit bigger and stronger? Another man, who works at General Nutrition Center (the makers of creatine) wrote that creatine is stupid to use and people should not put themselves in that kind of danger intentionally (“Consumers” 1).
People are realizing that creatine is dangerous and that the initial claims made by the companies are false. It is not only people who are realizing that these supplements are dangerous, states and governments are also realizing this. …New Jersey is banning creatine and so will all the states eventually and I am glad because it will save people from their own ignorance. It is not FDA approved because it is dangerous and as long as it does not state that it is a steroid on the bottle, it can be sold anyway (“Consumers” 3). It should be illegal to sell products that are not FDA approved. The companies are putting their customers at risk by selling dangerous products.
One of the most famous cases of sports supplements use was Mark McGwire. Dr. Gary Wadler, an American expert in sports-related drug use said, “baseball’s new Sultan of Swing, Mark McGwire, was ‘living on’ creatine as he chased Babe Ruth’s home run record this summer” (Sibbald 1). McGwire was also taking andro, and the combination of these two supplements probably helped him to achieve his goal of the home run record. Even the people using it know that it is wrong to take it. It gives them an unfair advantage over the people who care about their health and body and do not want to harm themselves on purpose.
“McGwire was furious when word leaked out last season he was using it” (Loony 12). Famous athletes who are role models to little kids should not be doing things that they are going to be ashamed of, or want to cover up. McGwire obviously knew that it was wrong to take the supplement, especially since he is a role model. Once the season was over, and he broke the homerun record and got his name in the books, McGwire stopped taking andro. “… A few days ago he told reporters in St. Louis he stopped using andro four months ago. The main reason for his behavior reversal: ‘Young kids take it because of me. I don’t like that’” (Loony 12).
McGwire was right, kids do take it because of him. Reports say that the sale of andro increased by over 500% after word came out that he was using the supplement (Loony 12). One can only hope that the kids will again follow his lead and stop taking this harmful drug. Mark McGwire is not the only professional athlete who is taking dangerous supplements. Michelle Smith de Bruin of Ireland won three gold medals in the Atlanta Olympics. Quite an accomplishment? Maybe if she had done it without the use of andro. She was banned from swimming for four years because of it. She ended up appealing the drug charges, but was not taken seriously because she spiked her urine sample with alcohol. In the end, she retired from swimming. (Cook 32).
The use of androstenedione is banned in almost every professional sport, the NCAA, and the Olympics, but not in professional baseball. There needs to be a uniform drug policy throughout all sports, not just certain ones. The use of sports supplements such as androstenedione or creatine is dangerous, and these drugs should require a prescription to obtain. The people who are using them are misinformed about the side effects that they might have. Athletes are willing to sacrifice their health and well being by taking androstenedione or creatine, in order to perform outstandingly for one season. The United States and the professional sports organizations need to tighten up legislation regarding these drugs. If nothing is done about this, many people will develop serious medical problems.