• Doping and tumors

The potential association between doping and tumors as a cause of early death of numerous soccer players has been the object of a study by the Ministry of Health that sooner or later shall appear on some medical journal. In the meantime the data have recently been reported by the Italian criminal judge Mr. Guarinello and they require thorough analysis of the phenomenon.
First of all a clear understanding of the problem is needed. Creatine, for instance, is an amino acid present in tissues, particularly muscle, which is an important compound in the anaerobic phase of muscular contraction but absolutely it does not transform a normal athlete into a champion. Actually synthetic creatine can only make up for the endogenous creatine loss caused by intense muscular activity; when taken at high dosage, the excess of creatine is unused and readily eliminated with urine. Soccer players take creatine only to compensate for the depletion occurring during a game; therefore, it is not doping at all.
A completely different matter is, of course, the use of anabolizing steroids. They are synthetic derivatives of testosterone, a male sex hormone secreted by human testes, responsible for muscle growth and tissue development throughout adolescence and adult age in the male. Anabolizing steroids are widely used by professional sportsmen and gym goers, physical culturists, body builders and even by numerous amateurs, especially cyclists, to improve their performances. They increase muscular mass and strength, resistance to intense and long-term exertion without physical breakdown, even though the advantages and the influencing factors are not completely clear, yet. It is not known, however, what frequency, duration and intensity training under steroid consumption must have to obtain the results the athletes are looking for. The risks for one's health are high and vary as a function of the drugs used, dosage, age at first administration and also of the concomitant use of other drugs, if any. Another important factor is for how long they have been taken.
As for side effects, it has been proven that the use of anabolizing steroids damages the liver and reproductive system, whereas cerebro-spinal, immune and cardiac problems, effects on the prostate and on carcinogenesis are still to be demonstrated. Steroids can decrease the level of testosterone production by the body till it stops, thus causing a reduction in size of the testes and depletion and mortality of the sperms. In the female, steroid consumption is related to a masculinization process with irregular menstrual cycles, loss of voice, breast reduction, hair loss, acne exacerbation and thickening of the body hair. More serious complications are the occurrences of malignancies, as tumor cases, in particular of the liver, prostate and kidney, have already been diagnosed and their number might increase with time, mainly among those who have taken anabolizing steroids on a long term. This seems to be the case with cyclists in France.
Erythropoietin is a hormone secreted by the human kidney, which stimulates the bone marrow production of erythrocytes. It can amplify the individual's energy capacities in sports performances and that is why it has been widely used, especially in cycling races. The most serious complications associated with a disproportionate erythrocyte increase are thrombosis, hypertension, heart decompensation and brain damage. Moreover, in order to prevent thrombotic complications, athletes often take anticoagulants, which can give rise to serious hemorrhages.
The cardiovascular complications that erythropoietin induces have certainly been the cause of death for a number of athletes who had made use of this substance in their careers; unfortunately cirrhosis and tumors can be expected as late complications. Overall, it has not been demonstrated yet how widespread the use of steroids and erythropoietin is among soccer players, but no doubt things have changed lately after the arrival of physicians and masseurs from the cycling milieu, where doping is common practice. Maybe we are right in time to prevent this phenomenon from spreading to the soccer world, one of the few popular sports where doping seems to be rather limited. Of course it has to be emphasized once again that sportsmen have to be "health-educated" and that certain attitudes have to be avoided, for instance that doping among soccer players is censured while smoking a cigarette on the soccer field and right before the TV cameras.


« back to the index of papers/books
|   home page   |   note legali   |   privacy   |   copyright   |   contatti   |