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Beyond The Tarnished Legacy: The Health Risks Of Doping

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

He may be the highest paid player in Major League Baseball, but after this week's latest crackdown on doping, A-Rod could be penny-pinching for awhile.

As of Tuesday, Rodriguez and the 12 other major league baseball players who allegedly used steroids to boost their athletic performance are set to lose millions of dollars because of their collective suspensions without pay.

Last month, after admitting to having used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun's public esteem sank quickly from hero to zero. And the list goes on.

Doping in professional sports has been in the news for decades, of course, with ruined reputations and slashed salaries  mounting.

But professional athletes who take these types of performance enhancing drugs have more to worry about: There are serious health risks that come with doping.

The Mayo Clinic offers the facts on the health impacts of illicit performance enhancing substances and ABC News posted a “cheat sheet” that lists the benefits and health costs of the forms of doping most popular among baseball players.  According to these sources, some of the potential side effects that come with using high doses of Human Growth Hormone are cardiomyopathy, high-blood pressure, high-cholesterol and diabetes; for anabolic steroids like testosterone, side effects include baldness, impotence and "'roid rage".

Fox News posted an article this week in which Dr. Robert Truax – a sports medicine physician at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Clevland – commented on the some of the more dire, longer term health consequences that can come with doping to boost athletic performance.

Despite their short term training benefits, PEDs have serious and potentially debilitating long-term side effects, according to Truax.

“These hormones or other drugs – metabolites or steroids – are actually chemically similar to hormones in our body already,” Truax said. “However, since they are taken in higher than normal physiological doses, they increase the amount of hormones you have well above normal ranges in our body.”

Some of the better known but less serious side effects include impotence in men, the worsening of acne, balding and steroid rage. When taken by adolescents, PEDs can also stunt growth.

But there are also far worse consequences of PED use – including heart damage, liver damage and an increased risk for blood clots.

“The heart is a muscle…and the heart isn’t designed to have that much testosterone stimulating it,” Truax said. “So it will grow abnormally. Then, the testosterone gets broken down by the liver so too much of it can accumulate in the liver and damage it."

The Fox News article points out that PEDs are desirable to some pro-sports players because they give players a powerful competitive edge in the short-term.

In response to the Lance Armstrong doping scandal earlier this year, The Atlantic posted an article the shed light on the intensity of the drive to win that may lead some athletes to use illicit performance enhancers.   According to an Australian survey presented in the article, this drive can trump the prioritization of long-term health in many professional athletes.

From the Atlantic post:

The need to protect elite athletes from themselves is real. In surveys administered between 1982 and 1995, half of elite athletes said they would take an undetectable PED if doing so meant they would win an Olympic gold medal, even if the drug were guaranteed to kill them within five years. When that hypothetical was posed to 250 normal Australians, less than one percent said they would take the gold-then-death drug.

Not that the health risks are stopping these guys. So, since the practice is sure to continue, here's a helpful CommonHealth post by psychiatrists on talking to your kids about doping athletes.

This program aired on August 8, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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