Clenbuterol - Another drug mistaken for "safe."

Years ago bodybuilders discovered a drug which was being prescribed to treat asthmatics. They found it helped to burn fat and appeared to have some anti-catabolic (muscle preserving) properties and it started to catch on as a steroid alternative. With growing use came abuse and it wasn't long before clenbuterol became a controlled substance. Supplements were sold with names similar to clenbuterol, but the actual medication, also sold under the names Spiropent, Oxyflux, Novegem, or as a veterinary medication called ventapulmin. For some reason it's suddenly finding new popularity on the black market and is being touted in health clubs by those willing to risk felony charges as a "safe" fat burner. I feel it's time to share a bit of fitness truth related to this drug and thought a question that was asked of me and the answer I provided would help to shed some light:

QUESTION: There's a lot of popularity now with people in the gym I workout in using Clenbuterol to lose fat. Many of my friends are seriously considering it and I'm concerned because I've heard there may be risks. What are the dangers and should I consider taking it?

ANSWER: I would discourage anyone from using drugs (yes, clenbuterol is a drug) unless there is a medical issue requiring such treatment. In a state of health, the body has an amazing way of controlling blood flow and hormonal balance in order to meet optimal momentary and long term biochemical needs. Once you begin to interrupt that process you do run some risks. Clenbuterol is a sympathomimetic drug, which means it acts to mimic the stimulatory neurotransmitters noradrenaline and adrenaline. Although it may be "popular," don't mistake popular for safe. It acts to increase body temperature which increases caloric burn, but shortly after this stimlatory temperature elevating effect kicks in, the thyroid gland backs off on its production of heat regulating hormones rendering clenbuterol ineffective in the long term. The rumors of it begin anabolic or having muscle building properties are actually based on use with livestock and the effect has not actually been proven in humans.

Here's an excerpt from an abstract referencing insightful research:

'The Effects of Clenbuterol on Skeletal and Cardiac Muscle of Rats when Combined with Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise, ' Biochemistry of Exercise Ninth International Conference Abstracts, #117, p 75, 1994

To determine some of clenbuterol's actions, scientists at the University of Melbourne in Australia recently gave clenbuterol to laboratory rats at dosages of 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. Some of the rats followed a completely sedentary lifestyle, while others sprinted on treadmills or engaged in endurance swim training. Clenbuterol did have a couple of potentially positive effects: Sedentary rats which ingested clenbuterol had larger muscles than clenbuterol-free, sedentary rodents, and clenbuterol users also transformed leg-muscle cells from slow-twitch to fast-twitch fibres, a surprising change which would tend to increase anaerobic energy production and magnify muscle power during short, intense exertions.

However, clenbuterol also yielded three very negative changes. First, after just four weeks, clenbuterol-treated rats were unable to maintain their normal swimming or running training intensities, while clean rodents were quite capable of continuing. Secondly, the hearts of the clenbuterol-taking, trained rats increased dramatically in size compared to the hearts of sedentary rats, but the heart expansion was probably due to the infiltration of collagen fibres into the heart walls, not an increase in heart-muscle cells. Collagen is a tough connective tissue which doesn't augment heart-muscle power but in fact stiffens the heart, potentially leading to a decrease in cardiac output. Increases in collagen may also produce cardiac arrhythmias. Thirdly, clenbuterol rats suffered from noticeable cardiac-cell degeneration.

It appears that, in spite of its popularity, clenbuterol is a potentially dangerous drug which offers very few positive effects for either the power or endurance athlete.

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