What You Need to Know About Doping

Physical exercise

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Doping is in the news again. In just a few days, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games will kick off in South Korea.

I love watching Olympians compete. Some of the things they are able to do don’t even seem humanly possible. These athletes have extraordinary talent and discipline. They fine tune their bodies through a lot of hard work, which includes intense mental preparation, physical training and diet.

But, unfortunately, doping reflects the dark side to competitive sports, with some athletes engaging in drug use, thinking it will help them reach their full athletic potential and ultimately win the gold medal.

“‘Doping' refers to an athlete's use of prohibited drugs [commonly called performance enhancing drugs] or methods to improve training and sporting results. Steroids are the drugs that often come to mind when we talk about doping, but doping also includes an athlete's use of other forbidden drugs (such as stimulants, hormones, diuretics, narcotics and marijuana),” according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Doping has been acknowledged as a problem at least since the 1960s.

And more recently, according to this report, research based on anonymous surveys conducted at two elite athletic competitions in 2011 discovered that “up to 57% of competitors admitted doping in the previous 12 months, a figure far surpassing the 1-2% identified by blood and urine tests carried out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), and higher even than the 14% prevalence estimated from the athlete biological passport.”

In 2015, a massive leaked database which included information based on 12,000 tests of more than 5,000 athletes, between 2001 and 2012, revealed that “more than a third of medals - including 55 golds - have been won at the Olympics and world championships by athletes who've recorded suspicious tests,” according to this report.

You likely have heard that back in December (2017) Russia’s Olympic team was banned for systematic doping from the upcoming winter games. And this ban, affecting 43 Russian athletes, is a life ban.

And in even more controversial news, on February 1, 2018,  it was announced that 28 of these Russian athletes’ life ban from the Olympics was overturned by a court because of “insufficient evidence.”

Some say this decision discredits how serious of an issue doping really is. And perhaps they are right, as yet another talented athlete finds himself caught up in a doping scandal.

During December of 2017, an Olympic track champion found himself in hot water after an undercover investigation targeted him as a main player involved in a doping scandal.

Thirty-five-year-old Justin Gatlin is being accused of taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), after undercover reporters said Gatlin’s coach and agent told them that Gatlin had been taking PEDs that they offered him. Reportedly, the coach and agent even said that athletes doping is very common and that it is possible to avoid doping tests that could prove an athlete was taking these drugs.

Simply put, PEDs have the ability or potential to drastically alter the human body and biological functions, including the ability to considerably improve athletic performance in certain instances,” says the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). “These drugs, however, can be extremely dangerous and, in certain situations, deadly.”

(Baseball star Alex Rodriguez, who is commonly called A-rod, admitted to taking PEDs in 2009 while playing for the Texas Rangers).   

Gatlin has a completely different side to the story.

I am not using and have not used PED's. I was shocked and surprised to learn that my coach would have anything to do with even the appearance of these current accusations. I fired him as soon as I found out about this. All legal options are on the table as I will not allow others to lie about me like this. I have no further comments as it is now a legal matter. They will next hear from my lawyer," Gatlin said.

Gatlin has already had two drug suspensions in his track career, one in 2001 and the other in 2006.

So let’s take a closer look at common PEDs and how they may affect the body.

  • Anabolic steroids (e.g. testosterone). Normally used to treat delayed puberty, some types of impotence and wasting of the body caused by HIV infection or other muscle-wasting diseases. Athletes may use these drugs to increase muscle mass. Abuse of these steroids may cause liver damage, depression (also may increase risk of suicide), male pattern baldness, acne and more.
  • Stimulants. These drugs are generally medically administered to treat attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), asthma, narcolepsy and even obesity. Stimulants stimulate the central nervous system and increase heart rate and blood pressure. Athletes may abuse these drugs to improve endurance, reduce fatigue, suppress appetite and increase aggressiveness. If abused, this may lead to insomnia, dehydration, heat stroke, addiction and anxiety. It might also increase heart rate and blood pressure and increase your risk for stroke, heart attack and cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Human Growth Hormones (HGHs). These hormones are used for a variety of medical reasons, including to treat children with growth issues from genetic disorders. Athletes may abuse these drugs to build more muscle. Taking HGHs without medical supervision may cause heart attack, stroke, anemia, thyroid problems and more.
  • Diuretics. The main medical purpose of diuretics is to increase urination and treat conditions, like hypertension, kidney disease and congestive heart failure. But some athletes may use these drugs to try to eliminate residue from taking steroids or lose water weight. If these drugs are abused, it can cause a drop in blood pressure and even death.

On top of all the other possible consequences of doping, it may also deplete nutrients from the body which may ultimately negatively impact athletic performance.

For example, since diuretics increase urination they may cause depletion of minerals, like potassium, from the body.

These drugs [diuretics] direct the kidneys to pump water and sodium into the urine. Unfortunately, potassium also slips through the open floodgates,” says Harvard Medical School. “A low potassium level can cause muscle weakness, cramping, or an abnormal heartbeat, which is especially dangerous for people with heart problems.”

Stimulants may cause depletion of critical nutrients, including magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B6. Low magnesium levels may cause muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat and mood changes. Having a deficiency in vitamin C may cause fatigue, depression and more. Low vitamin B6 may cause weakness and numbness.

Since anabolic steroid abuse may cause liver damage, it can cause an increase in cholesterol levels. Having a damaged liver may also cause malabsorption issues, meaning that you may have trouble processing the nutrients from the foods you eat.

And taking nutritional supplements does not always help correct nutrient imbalances. Furthermore, in the world of athletics taking some supplements may lead to an athlete being reprimanded.

“For athletes subject to sport drug testing, taking nutritional or dietary supplements may cause a positive test for a prohibited substance that may not be disclosed on the product label. In accordance with all applicable rules for a positive test result within a sport, a sanction may be imposed,” according to the USADA.

So how can you be proactive?

If you are a competitive athlete, it is extremely important to fuel your body with a variety of nutrient-rich foods.

Examples of nutrients that may help enhance or affect athletic performance include:

  • Iron. “Iron is one of the most critical minerals with implications for sports performance. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, myoglobin, cytochromes, and various enzymes in the muscle cells, all of which are involved in the transport and metabolism of oxygen for aerobic energy production during endurance exercise. The benefits of iron supplementation may depend on the iron status of the athlete,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To see a variety of foods rich in iron, click here.
  • Selenium.  According to the NIH, selenium is a “component of several enzymes, particularly glutathione peroxidase (GPx), an important cellular antioxidant enzyme. Theoretically, selenium supplementation could prevent peroxidation of the RBC membrane and muscle cell substructures involved in oxygen metabolism, possibly enhancing aerobic exercise performance.” Nutritionists love to tout Brazil nuts for their high selenium content. Just one large nut can have 140 mg of this mineral - more than twice the recommended daily amount! Oysters, whole grains and meats also contain selenium.
  • Niacin (vitamin B3). “Niacin supports both anaerobic and aerobic performance. Too much or too little niacin can shift your body's use of energy from fat to carbohydrates or vice versa; this might affect performance,” reports the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, peanuts, mangoes, asparagus and sweet potatoes are dietary sources of this vitamin.

To read more about sports nutrition for high-intensity athletes, read here. And for all of the ladies who are competitive athletes or simply looking to step it up at the gym, read here.

And finally, it is extremely important to get a comprehensive nutrient test to make sure you do not have any nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. If you do, you may have to tweak your diet, take good quality supplements or even consider the use of liposomal technology.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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