I don’t know about you, but I started to lose interest in the Olympics when it became apparent that many of the real competitors were pharmacologists and not athletes. Every year the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), an organization founded by the International Olympic Committee in 1999 to combat drug use in sport, is launching a updated medication list – there are about 200 – banned from sport in the world.
The list is impressive; there’s all kinds of s### that you don’t want to put in your body (1). About what you’d expect: Steroids, stimulants, growth hormones, and masking agents (usually diuretics), which can prevent listed drugs from being detected.
Steroids may not be what you think.
Everyone knows about anabolic steroids – drugs that help build muscle – but there’s an interesting twist here. A lesser known class of drugs called Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs). From a chemist’s point of view, these are fascinating chemicals. They act like anabolic steroids, but not exactly. And chemically they look nothing like steroids, which have the following framework (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Steroids are defined by their chemical structure, not by their function. The backbone of all steroids contains the 6-membered rings – all made of carbon atoms – fused with a 5-membered ring. The letters serve as names for the individual rings.
Of course, despite their identical framework, steroids are “adorned” with different atoms, which gives them their properties (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Four common steroids. Although all four may look alike, they have very different properties.
Anabolic steroids – a big no-no
When most people hear the word “steroid” they usually think of testosterone or anabolic (muscle building) steroids (the AMA lists 50), but there are a number of other classes. Neither cholesterol, which is found in all animal cells, nor prednisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, have properties that would make them of obvious use to Olympic athletes. (2).
But anabolic steroids definitely help with weightlifting and other sports that require strength. These have certainly been the most common doping drugs in the history of Olympic sports.
Figure 3. Selected anabolic steroids
TIME FOR A RANT!
I admit it. There are winter sports that I don’t understand. Curling is oddly popular, but is it in the same competition as ski jumping? And why not modernize the sport and use vacuum cleaners? And the biathlon where competitors have to ski and shoot. What does filming have to do with skiing? Why not make them ski and fry an egg? Go wild.
Androgen receptor agonists
Androgen receptors are a subset of steroid hormone receptors (there are 49 of them), which control multiple physiological functions in the body. When an androgen, most commonly testosterone, binds to a receptor, it triggers the development of several (usually) male characteristics, such as increased muscle mass, hair growth, bone development, puberty and libido.
This multitude of physiological responses causes unwanted side effects when used as a medicine for conditions such as muscle wasting, osteoporosis, and hypogonadism (insufficient testosterone). These include male pattern baldness, body hair growth, acne, aggressive behavior, heart disease, and enlarged prostate glands. Looks like the cure is worse than the disease.
SARMs – “disguised” anabolic steroids
Even someone with no knowledge of chemistry will be able to see that SARMs are nothing like steroids. Here are three of the dozen known SARMs (Figure 4).
Where do these things come from?
Even though their use is illegal, SARMs are the product of bona fide pharmaceutical research. Androgen mimics have been designed to treat several conditions, for example, muscle wasting in the elderly (cachexia), osteoporosis, male sexual dysfunction, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Do they work?
Yes and no. There are no FDA-approved SARMs, and their use in “dietary supplements” is illegal (of course, that hasn’t stopped sleazebag companies from selling these products online).
Here are some examples of SARMs that have been tested on humans.
- Ostarine (MK-2866) – Merck has tried to develop Ostarine (Enobosarm) for multiple conditions such as muscle wasting due to cancer. pharmaceutical gtx took over and conducted clinical trials on urinary incontinence in women.
- Ligandrol (LGD-4033, VK5211) – Viking therapy is developing the compound to improve muscle and bone strength in the elderly.
- Testalone (RAD140) – Elipses Pharma is developing RAD140 as a treatment for breast cancer.
People use these drugs anyway.
I have personally used it for quality muscle growth. It helped me gain muscle when I wanted to show off my bodybuilding skills to someone special.
– A dope who bought Ligandrol online. I hope he finds someone special.
Many athletes representing a wide variety of sports have been caught using SARMs. Some have been banned. Wikipedia has a list of athletes who have been caught using Ligandrol, one of the most popular SARMs, alone. Some long-suffering Knicks fans might remember 2017 – just one year in an endless parade of miserable seasons – when Joakim Noah (3), in the middle of a 72 million dollar contract over 4 years was caught using Ligandrol and served a 20-game suspension.
“I’ve tried taking a supplement to help me with everything I’ve been through. I suffered a lot of injuries and tried to take something to help me and it backfired.
Joakim Noé, March 2017
Did it matter? You decide:
Joakim Noah’s two years with the Knicks
- A fruit bat can make 43.6% of its free throws
- Noah was paid $297,000 per stitch during his time with the Knicks. The Knicks offloaded him to Memphis in 2019.
- To be fair, Noah was a great defender. He was All-Star in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
It is more or less that. Running out of energy. Technically, I didn’t cheat on this article although I may have had a bit of performance-enhancing Cap’n Crunch to get me through…the critical moment.
Yeah, that sucked. My fault.
(1) There are also many safe and widely used drugs that are banned because they can give athletes an advantage. An example, beta-blockers, which slow heart rate and lower blood pressure. Why would they be useful? Sports like golf, darts and archery, where nervous muscles are prohibited, do not allow beta-blockers. Concert pianists sometimes use beta-blockers for the same reason. I tried it once. Worked pretty well. Good for stage fright.
(2) This is not entirely true. Although prednisone and cortisone do not strengthen muscles, they help athletes by decreasing pain. The AMA bans 22 anti-inflammatory steroids for this reason.
(3) Noah’s father was Yannick Noah, a super tennis pro.