Performance enhancing drugs have been in the news for the past several years. Many professional athletes have used, and abused, anabolic steroids, such as testosterone, and EPO, known as erythropoietin.
Both erythropoietin and testosterone are hormones normally produced by the human body. Testosterone is the male sex hormone responsible for secondary sex characteristics, such as deepening of voice, public hair and development of upper body strength.
It is used medically, by prescription only, for treatment of various disorders, most commonly, low testosterone in older men. A decrease in testosterone with aging is normal and taking a supplement can improve virility, extinguish fatigue and even help with disrupted sleep.
It is also used in pubescent children, including females, if normal sexual maturation is disrupted. Since testosterone will build muscle, many athletes will illegally obtain these steroids to enhance muscle, vitality and stamina. Not only is this illegal and unfair in competition, it can pose serious health risks, many of which may not yet be known.
There have been no medical substantiated studies of long term steroid use as of yet. However, it is known to cause shrinkage of testicles, formation of breast tissue in males, infertility, increased irritability and possibly, rage, tagged "'roid rage."
EPO, or erthropoeitin, is also a normal hormone, produced by the kidneys to induce the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. It may be normally excreted after surgery, childbirth, donating blood or menstruation or on a regular basis. Since the body destroys red blood cells after about 120 days, more are needed to be constantly replenished.
Kidney disease can affect this production and erythropoietin levels can be assayed in the laboratory. Under different brand names, it can be prescribed to cancer patients whose treatment has affected bone marrow and, therefore, blood cell production. It can also be prescribed to a patient to be injected in office prior to a surgery in which a lot of blood loss is expected.
EPO, as used by Lance Armstrong, was intended to boost red cell production in an effort to increase oxygen to the body's tissues, including muscles. Since it is the function of red blood cells carry oxygen to all the body's tissues, it can be assumed that it will increase performance.
Again, this is a completely unfair and illegal action and cause for alarm. Increasing the body's red blood cell count artificially and unnecessarily will cause blood to become thicker, or more viscous. This is especially dangerous if dehydrated, and can cause heart attack or stroke. There may be risk of kidney injury as well. The effect of long term illegal EPO use is also not well known.
Let's just compete for the sake of competition and let the best athlete win. Nothing is worth the life it may take.