PHIL KAPLAN'S FITNESS TRUTH - The Dark Side of Bodybuilding

The Dark Side of Bodybuilding
The Growth of the Black Market

By Phil Kaplan

I've been helping people change their bodies in positive ways for over 20 years. I remember being 19 years old, competing in regional bodybuilding contests, and weighing out the decision of whether or not to use anabolic steroids. At the time there weren't many options. Some of the guys in the gym were going to doctors to get testosterone injections and others were buying D-bol (dianabol) on the black market. I knew once I turned 20 I could no longer compete as a teenager and the competition would be using chemical enhancement so the temptation was very real.

During the period of time I allotted for my decision making process, a 24-year-old powerlifter I knew died from liver disease. He was an admitted steroid user and used what at the time were considered excessively high dosages.

A few days later I went to a bodybuilding show and Perry, a bodybuilder who trained at the same gym as I, arrived at the prejudging yellow. I mean he looked the color of a well oiled banana. I met him backstage, thinking he had made some mistakes with his skin dye. He was obviously sick and spaced out. He said it was from the diet. What struck me was, the whites of his eyes were also yellow. I never saw him again. He didn't show up for the evening contest. That was enough to help me make my decision. I opted not to cross the line and decided I would not become a steroid user.

Thankfully that forced me to focus on education, on learning to optimize results through eating and training. Over the 20 some odd years that followed, I watched those who made different decisions than I pack on muscle rapidly, and then dwindle down to mere shadows of their engorged bodies within a matter of weeks or months. I've met athletes who were as dependent, from a psychological standpoint, on drugs as a heroin addict might be from a chemical standpoint. I've watched bodybuilders dehydrate themselves to the point of stroke and in one case death using diuretic drugs. I've seen women completely distort their bodies by following the drug prescriptions of locker room steroid gurus. I've waited anxiously to hear the outcome of a local bodybuilder who borrowed a hypodermic needle in the gym locker room to inject his testosterone and wound up with a potentially lethal staff infection. I've interviewed pro bodybuilders on my radio show who had found the progression from using pain killers (for more productive workouts) to cocaine addiction a short journey. I've even had a bodybuilder visit my show to share the risks of drug use with listeners one day after being released from the hospital. The drug GHB caused his heart to stop. Thankfully he survived to tell the tale.

While I still believe there is nothing more valuable to the human body and spirit than taking control of what you do, think, and eat, and while I believe bodybuilding, in its purest form is an overwhelmingly positive pursuit, I am careful to separate the concept of healthful bodybuilding from that "sport" that relies as much on drugs as it does on food. It hasn't always been that way, but as the bodybuilding public sought superhuman heroes, and as the prize money in professional contests became significant, drugs found their place in the bodybuilding arena.

While I absolutely discourage the use of any drugs among those for whom the drugs are not serving a therapeutic purpose, this is not a criticism of athletes who, after becoming educated on the subject, choose to use anabolics to further their livelihoods. Pro athletes often have to make ethical decisions based on inevitable competition with those who are willing to seek chemical enhancement. With pro athletes aside, this is intended to stand as a warning to those who believe that drugs are a shortcut or that they come without risks.

The lure of steroids and other growth enhancing drugs have drawn in many who haven't any aspirations of ever earning their livelihoods through their physical achievements. On almost a daily basis I receive questions from 20 year olds, 19 years olds, even 15 year olds, related to the use of drugs that can severely alter the hormonal cascade. Many of these teens and young adults have an invincibility attitude, and believe that the negative ramifications might manifest when they're older, but for now they want to be "big," and "older" seems too far away to be a concern. I know many former steroid users who are anything but old who, given the choice of time travel, would opt to make some very different decisions the second time around. Some have prostate issues at 35 years old. Some are on blood pressure meds at 33. Others are very thankful viagra hit the marketplace by their 30th birthday.

The Growth of the Black Market

The distribution or possession of anabolic steroids for non-medical reasons became a federal offense in 1988 when Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. Two years later the laws grew more restrictive when legislation classified anabolic steroids as controlled substances. The penalties grew harsh both for individuals who were trafficking the drugs and for the pharmaceutical companies who failed to maintain adequate controls. That's when the black market started to grow massively.

Doctors were no longer prescribing anabolic steroids for athletes, yet the intrigue among young athletes grew and the willing dealers were right there to meet the demand. With time counterfeit labs emerged and the dangers grew even more ominous. Without any control at all, imitations of anabolic drugs produced in clandestine laboratories were found to contain everything from salad oil to heroin. Overseas pharmacies that were not impacted by US laws became sources for steroid smugglers and the black market growth continued.

Here's where the scary part lies. Teens and young adults are prime victims of the perceived allure of these mysterious products, and now, the black market drugs have escalated way beyond anabolic steroids to some "new" compounds that may lead to abuse, psychological addiction, circulatory disorders, tissue wasting, toxicity, and deformed appearances. I think a clear resource for truth is needed to at least serve as an information balance for those who have been tempted by the supposed benefits of these potentially hazardous drugs. I'll attempt to shine some light on those black market products I'm most asked about.

Serostim - I was in a health food store in Venice Beach California just a few weeks ago and a young man who visibly had some weight training experience asked the rag-top clad bodybuilder behind the counter if he could buy some Serostim. The clerk said they didn't carry it and that was the end of the discussion. Has it gone so far that those in search of muscle now believe they can walk into a store and buy drugs as simply as they'd buy protein powder? I had to find out. I asked the drug wanting customer if he had ever used Serostim. He told me he hadn't, but his buddy in New York just won a bodybuilding show and said he packed on 20 pounds of muscle using Serostim. Did he even know what this compound was? I had to ask. His response was, "well, it's legal because of the laws for AIDS patients and it's more powerful than steroids." That illustrated for me the plight of half educated consumers combing the borders of the black market to buy drugs they don't really understand.

Serostim is synthetic GH. Growth Hormone. Growth Hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and is actively involved in the endocrine chain in order to facilitate the natural process of tissue growth. At first, for therapeutic purposes, specifically to help repair the flawed endocrine systems in those who were diagnosed with dwarfism, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) was extracted from the pituitary glands of cadavers. With time, the drug companies Eli Lilly, Genetech, and Serono pharmaceuticals, developed synthetic GH compounds that act as the therapeutic equivalent of HGH. All drugs are developed with therapeutic intents, but when abuse, overuse, and risk rival the potential benefits of the drug being distributed, stringent controls are necessary. Clinics began to emerge where GH testing of adults was used as the justification for very expensive dispensing of pharmaceutical GH products under the premise of hormonal replacement, but it was only when Serostim was approved for AIDs patients that the black market went GH crazy.

Serostim has become widely used, illegally, by bodybuilders who believe it is yet the newest secret to building muscle. Is it? Not really. While it has proven potentially valuable in preventing muscle wasting in AIDs patients, the long term ramifications of synthetically altering GH levels in healthy individuals remain unclear. AIDs patients using the drug often report side effects including muscle pain, joint pain stiffness, and swelling, but the long term risks may be far more severe. If you have a life threatening disease, perhaps survival and comfort are worth the risk, but for healthy individuals seeking a growth spark, messing around randomly with the endocrine system can lead to gradual changes that are not identified in the short term. Recent research is already revealing that GH usage may raise triglyceride levels which might contribute to heart disease risk. (Christmas, C. et al, Effects of growth hormone and/or sex steroid administration on serum lipid profiles in healthy elderly women and men, Presented at 1999 Endrocrine Society conference, San Diego, California) In further study, Serostim usage appears to lead to elevated glucose levels, elevated pancreatic hormone levels, and increased incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome and did not appear to lead to muscle increase (Mooney, Michael, HIV Study Shows No Muscle Growth From Serostim Growth Hormone, Medibolics, July, 1999). The bottom line is, this is a serious drug that alters the hormonal make-up of the body in ways that may be irreversible. This is not a supplement or a simple secret for adding a few pounds of muscle.

Kynoselen (Kyno) - this is another compound that has hit the black market, or perhaps the gray market since it hasn't been categorized as a controlled substance, and is being sold as a great "get ripped" compound, or as a workout energizer. It is an injectable liquid that was not developed with human beings in mind. The fact that it's injectable and the idea of it being an underground product have put it, from a perception standpoint, in the same category as steroids. This is not a steroid. It is a veterinary vitamin mineral supplement used to treat horses and dogs with muscle wasting diseases. It does not act as steroids, it has not been demonstrated to increase muscle size in weight training humans, and I don't believe it's necessary to inject anything into your body. Your mouth does a very nice job of taking in vitamins and minerals and your digestive tract knows precisely where to send them. If you're looking for a muscle boost, consider oral creatine monohydrate. It's safe, it's legal, and you mix it in a glass and drink it. Most of all, it's been proven in research and there aren't any serious risks attached to it. Kynoselen is sold more because of its intrigue than its actual payoff, and anytime you stick a needle into your body there is some unnecessary risk.

Mifepristone - A very expensive drug called Mifepristone has found its way onto the bodybuilding black market. It's being pushed as an estrogen blocker suggesting that by lessening the activity of the predominant female hormone in men, the end result will be enhanced masculinity and muscle. It is NOT an estrogen blocker, but rather a progesterone antagonist. Chances are, if you've been reading newspapers for a few years you've heard of this drug, but you know it under a different name. RU-486, otherwise known as the French abortion pill that led to a massive ethical controversy in the U.S. It may be promoted by black market dealers as a great fat burner or a great muscle builder, but in reality it's altering the sex hormone balance which has the potential of leading to everything from decreased sperm count to impotence. Research seems to suggest that use of mifepristone can also increase cortisol production. Cortisol is described as the stress hormone, and in bodybuilding circles as a "muscle-eating" hormone. It also seems to alter the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which can lead to alteration in brain neurotransmission and onset of severe depression. It's a drug, it's a serious drug, and it is not something a healthy individual should have any interest messing around with.

Synthol - this may be the most bizarre of all of the black market offerings. It doesn't actually build muscle but it does add what in some cases looks like a dinosaur sized mosquito bite to whatever bodypart it's injected into. It can turn arms into huge monstrosities hardly resembling anything human. Synthol is primarily oil that sits inside the muscle fascia, creating a swelling effect that in excess can only be described as "freaky." It is composed 85% of MCT oil, 7.5% lidocaine, which is a painkiller, and benzyl alcohol. Building muscle by eating and training can be very aesthetically pleasing, but injecting oil and swelling up bodyparts is not only unnatural, it's dangerous. If a fatty acid compound is accidentally injected into a blood vessel, it can travel to the lungs and a pulmonary embolism can occur. Even if it is injected into muscle there are risks including abscesses, infections, and even muscle paralysis. Unfortunately synthol sellers are selling it as a quick easy pumping agent. You now know better.

PGF2alpha - for some reason people are responsive to confusing names. They believe there's something inherently scientific in combinations of letters and numbers. I believe before considering putting anything into your body, via a teaspoon, a glass, or a syringe, it's a pretty good idea to understand what the letters represent. PGF2alpha can also be referred to as prostaglandins. Of course that makes it sound a little less scientific, but perhaps it makes it easier to understand what we're dealing with. Unlike intramuscular steroids, prostaglandins, hormonal agents that act to help the uterus contract and can be used to induce labor, have a very short half life and have to be injected frequently if they are to remain active. Bodybuilders use them to stimulate contraction and growth of local muscle tissue at the injection site. They also can cause undesired contractions of muscles along the intestinal tract so they are injected locally into the shoulders, extremities, and calves. Some bodybuilders using prostaglandins are sticking up to 16 needles per day into their bodies! If your goal is to become a human pin cushion who might lose bowel control at any given moment, you might consider these compounds, but if healthful muscle gain is what you seek, I'd suggest the basics. Eat right, train hard.

I could keep going, but I think you get the point. Drugs are not magic bullets, nor are they fitness solutions. Fitness and risk of addiction, injury, and death do not go hand in hand.

There is an irony to the black market issue. The bodybuilders who entertain the use of little known, untested, risky drugs believing they may have found a shortcut, often weigh and measure all of their meals. They only drink bottled water. They avoid cigarette smoke and attempt to avoid sugars, food additives, and refined foods. Then, they consider injecting "who knows what," found in a bottle that was discreetly hidden in the trunk of a suppliers car, into their bodies?!?!?!? Because "who knows what" might have been made in a dirty laboratory somewhere near the Mexican border, might contain impurities or addictive drugs, and is more likely to bring about discomfort, pain, and the risk of side effects than it is any positive outcome, perhaps the goal should be re-examined before a rash decision is made. My advice? Pass on the odd, underground, and the questionable compounds and stick to good old proteins, carbs, essential fats, and exercise. I can assure you your results will be far more gratifying!

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