The Doctors Next Door

I Wanna Be an Olympian!

Don't we all want to be like the pro's?  Consider "I wanna be like Mike" or America's Next Runway Model, Dancing With the Stars. Aren't these all attempts to live out our inner superstar?

Then...there's Beatles Rock Band.  My son...we'll call him Ringo...has developed a family of blisters on both hands with his ambitious attempts to emulate the famous drummer. Last night, in fact, during an inspiring rendition of Yellow Submarine, we were stopped abruptly by the bursting of one such blister. I, being the doctor, was sent to run for a bandage.  My own injury has been strained vocal cords. No one else wants to be the lead singer and why would the boys pass up such a rich opportunity to ridicule mom? my heart of hearts, don't I long to be the next Whitney Houston?

Speaking of sports injuries...

...a friend's son broke his hand while playing Wii when in his aggressive attacks on a little red-headed avatar during a heated tennis match, his hand struck a nearby dusty weight-bench.  Ah.. the hazards of video-gaming.

Last I checked video gaming was not an Olympic sport, and then again if curling can be considered a sport, why not a battle of the Beatles Rock Bands?   Nonetheless, I'll turn our attention to some of the other more likely challenges athletes face.  So lets talk about performance-enhancing drugs.  These fall into three main categories:

  1. Anabolic-androgenic steroids
  2. Diuretics
  3. "Nutritional" supplements 

I think we all know that the use of anabolic steroids can help you look like the other Jay Cutler.


Jay Cutler Bodybuilder.jpg

Jay Cutler, Bodybuilder AKA Mr. Olympia

I don't know about you but I don't expect him to be throwing any touchdown passes. Looks to me like the laws of biomechanics would prevent the ascent of his arms up past his deltoids.  And as far as diuretics go, here's Mr Olympia after consuming a handful of diuretics to make weight for a wrestling match.

keith_richards 2.jpg


Diuretics may also help the shriveled Jay pass his drug test by diluting his urine.

So while we have not tried performance-enhancing drugs to aide us in our Rock Band jams,  all three of the above categories of these drugs are widely available to our teens. Yet I find the most concerning to be the over-the-counter "nutritional" preparations that promise to enhance performance.

There are two words commonly used in the marketing of such products that are extremely deceptive. These words are "nutritional" and "natural".  Just because a substance is "natural" doesn't mean it is safe.  Case in point, opium (heroin's first cousin) and tobacco are two "natural" substances.

The most common among these over-the-counter drugs include creatine, androstenedione and stimulants. Creatine is used extensively by amateur athletes and boys that just want to look "buff". It wins "most popular" in this class of performance-enhancing drugs.  The body's natural form of creatine helps muscles release energy. So those who want to sell you this item draw the logical (albeit false) conclusion that more is better.

Some evidence shows that creatine may enhance small bursts of energy like those needed by power lifters. However, the drug does not seem to have any effect on endurance or aerobic capacity. And its risks are significant, including stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and weight gain.  Higher doses can also damage the liver and kidneys.  None of it sounds like much fun to me and these side effects can obviously have the opposite effect on an athelete's performance.

Androstenedione, commonly called "andro", is illegal in the US but in fact is frequently found in nutritional supplements available here. Body-builder magazines tout it as something that increases testosterone levels. I don't know about the men in your life but I can tell you that mine have plenty of testosterone on board. I would strongly discourage any extra.

Scientific studies show that andro does nothing to enhance performance or muscle mass and the news on its effects is all bad.  If these don't scare a man away from this substance I don't know what will:

  • Shrinking testicles
  • Enlargement of the breasts

So maybe you can cover those up. But what about the acne?  The news is equally bad for women with male-pattern baldness and deepening of the voice.

Last but not least in this category of performance-enhancing drugs are the stimulants. These include caffeine, amphetamines, cocaine and cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine. Psuedoephedrine's other claim to fame is as a key ingredient in the production of "crystal meth".  For this reason, it's been kept behind the druggist's counter and is sold only in very limited quantities according to law.

A common source of amphetamine type drugs are those used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example, Adderall.  Athletes like stimulants because they temporarily increase energy, aggressiveness and attention. All of the stimulants can be dangerous for the heart, causing an abnormal heart rhythm, elevated blood pressure, seizures and even hallucinations.

So that's your primer on over-the-counter performance enhancing drugs.  I hear the steady baseline of Talking Head's Psycho Killer and my son calling out for his lead singer.  Did you know there's a whole lot of French in that song?  Not the American profanity type, the real Parisian type. I took only Spanish.  I'm really good at the ey-ey-ey-ey-ey part but haven't yest mastered the French. I better grab some bandaides on the way downstairs.




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