Anabolic Steroid misuse has been the cause of death in many athletes and bodybuilders in recent years for the simple result of mimicking testosterone for fast muscle growth.
Earlier this week, an inquest following Rochdale bodybuilder Dean Wharmby’s death in July this year, found that the liver cancer he died from was directly caused by anabolic steroid misuse. The 39-year-old first developed health problems in 2010 when tumours were found in his liver after he had been taking steroids for several years to increase muscle mass.
Many other people around the country like Dean Wharmby have died from similar drug misuse in bodybuilding. Oli Cooney from West Yorkshire died in 2013 from chronic heart damage as a result of taking anabolic steroids. The 20-year-old had two heart attacks and three strokes, and refused to listen to doctors to limit the amount of exercise he was doing.
Similarly, in January this year, Ryan Harriss from Essex nearly died after his heart had swollen and his blood pressure was off the scale, after taking an overdose of steroids and was addicted to the performance enhancing effects.
In Manchester alone, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) made 1,488 seizures of steroids across the region in 2013 – nearly double from the previous year. Moreover, the National Crime Agency reported in June this year a 34-year-old man had been arrested in Manchester by officers from GMP in conjunction with underground drug laboratories. A large quantity of steroids, laboratory equipment and machinery was seized and the lab was shut down.
But why are these drugs becoming more common in the fitness industry?
Anabolic steroids are a class C drug and are only available on prescription. However, this type of steroid is widely circulated in the bodybuilding community for its performance-enhancing effects. Fast muscle growth comes from the chemicals in the drug mimicking hormones such as testosterone; coupled with weight lifting, the muscles do not become as damaged after a hard session making the recovery process quicker and allowing people to workout more frequently. Although it is not illegal to possess the drug, it is illegal to supply it.
Other forms of steroids, corticosteroids, are used to treat medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, asthma, Crohn’s disease and Addison’s disease to name a few. (Where the adrenal glands in the body stop functioning and hydrocortisone, a form of steroid, is taken to mimic the effects of adrenaline in the body. Steroids are essential for survival for people with this condition.)
Dr Helen Webberley, GP and writer for Oxford Online Pharmacy says: “As a GP, I am shocked at the risks young men (and women) expose themselves to in order to try and achieve the muscle bound body that is on the front of so many men’s magazines. It terrifies me that my son or his friends might be encouraged to take this path, and I am saddened that society asks our men to have this unrealistic expectation. Protein shakes also cause problems with gynecomastia and stretch marks as well as acne, and I wish there was tighter regulation on these as well.”
I am saddened that society asks our men to have this unrealistic expectation”
Anabolic steroids can cause enormous risks when taken to enhance performance. “Steroids can cause heart attacks, blood clots, strokes, and can worsen or bring on anxiety and depression.” Says Dr Webberley. The drug has a lot of side effects, which can be fatal, as seen in Dean Wharmby’s case, among others. Some of the effects on men include the shrinking of the testicles, causing erectile problems and can promote breast growth and stretch marks. For women, they have a masculinisation effect with hairiness, clitoral enlargement and voice changes. The muscle mass that develops can also turn out very saggy and unattractive and this contributes to problems with physical and psychological addiction. In teenagers they stunt the growth and as they are often injected, they carry the risk of transmitted infections such as hepatitis and HIV, for all.
But with all these dangers why are steroids so widely used? Another shocking case in Manchester in June this year found a 60-year-old bodybuilder guilty of dealing steroids to others as well as injecting himself up to 40 times per week. Inevitably, some individuals see the benefits outweigh the advantages. But personal trainers explain that these drugs are not necessary to achieve the size and definition of a lean bodybuilder’s physique. Taking steroids is cheating, and the most damaging on people’s health.
Jack Billingham, a former personal trainer says: “Users of these drugs are addicted to the results rather than the drug. In a similar way to heroin, users are addicted to the way the drug makes you feel, and with steroids, appearance is everything.”
“Steroid users have the reverse effects of anorexia. People with anorexia look in the mirror and see themselves as fat, or larger than they are, whereas bodybuilders and rugby players using the drug, look in the mirror and see a smaller version of themselves; therefore taking anabolic steroids gives them rapid muscle growth” says Jack.
Sometimes, the drug can make users lose control. Some people become aggressive, and irrational, and sometimes have ‘mad moments’ they cannot control. Reports in the past, have shown people can get paranoid, depressed and show violent tendacies after admitting taking anabolic steroids. One report in particular of Raoul Moat, who killed his ex-girlfriend and her partner, and blinded a police man before shooting himself a week later. Moat was addicted to steroids, and as a result became paranoid, and violent.
As a professional, Jack says: “I, and other personal trainers would advise clients not to use drugs to enhance performance, I would make them aware of the serious health and psychological issues, offer them guidance and design a training plan where they can get the results the correct way.”
He adds: “Diet, exercise and planning your training effectively is the best way to acheieve longer lasting results. Taking drugs increases water retention, meaning when users come off the drug, they lose weight rapidly as the effects are reversed.
“Training your body the correct way, without drugs, is a slower process, however it is more effective as your body stays healthy throughout the process.
Despite all of the research and case studies, the drugs are still on the rise in gyms, and rehabilitation units have been set up to try and provide support for the people who reach out for it. However, as the drugs are so widespread in gyms and fitness centres, it is extremely difficult to combat the issue.
By Niamh Lewis