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Thursday, 5 August, 1999, 16:26 GMT
Nandrolone and anabolic steroids
Ben Johnson
Sprinter Ben Johnson took anabolic steroids
Are tests for nandrolone conclusive?

Even though a drug test may indicate that the subject has apparently taken nandrolone to boost muscle growth and increase strength, this does not necessarily prove wrongdoing.

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It is possible that the body may naturally create a form of nandrolone, particularly if the subject has eaten large quantities of meat contaminated with the substance.

It is also possible that dietary supplements taken perfectly legally by some athletes are broken down by the body to produce the same substances created when nandrolone is broken down.

What are anabolic steroids?

Positive nandrolone tests
Linford Christie, Britain, sprinter
Merlene Ottey, Jamaica, sprinter
Doug Walker, Britain, sprinter
Mark Richardson, Britain, swimmer
Petr Korda, Czech, tennis player
Djamel Bouras, France, judo player
Spencer Smith, Britain, triathlete
Igor Shalimov, Russia, footballer
Christophe Dugarry, France, rugby player
Anabolic steroids are drugs that are usually synthesised from the male reproduction hormone testoterone.

They have been banned by many sports because of their danger to health.

Their exact effect on the body is still a matter of scientific debate.

Why do sportsmen take them?

Anabolic steroids can improve the body's capacity to train and compete at the highest level.

They reduce the fatigue associated with training, and the time required to recover after physical exertion.

They also promote the development of muscle tissue in the body, with an associated increase in strength and power. This is achieved by stimulating the production of protein in the body.

However, some of the increased muscle bulk may be due to the laying down of water and minerals, so the increase in strength may not be as pronounced as expected.

What are the risks associated with anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids promote the growth of many tissues in the body by stimulating the release of the hormone testoterone.

By disturbing the body's equilibrium, anabolic steroids can potentially cause damage to many of the body's major organs, particularly the liver, which has to deal with breaking down the compound.

There is also a significant risk of damage to the heart, which is made of muscle tissue. Anabolic steroids can lead to an expansion of the cardiac muscle, which can cause heart attacks.

The drugs also promote the growth of bones, particularly facial bones such as the jaw, and the teeth.

There is also an increased risk of cancer.

Other side effects include:

  • The development of inappropriate sexual characteristics such as breasts in men, and facial hair in women;
  • A deepening of the voice;
  • Baldness;
  • Male impotence.

John Brewer, director of the Human Performance Centre at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre, said: "The health risks associated with anabolic steroids are as serious as you can get.

"They greatly increase a person's risk of dying early or of suffering long-term physical problems.

"While the rewards of success in sport are getting greater and greater, the temptation to take anabolic steroids should be offset by the risk of an early grave."

Are all anabolic steroids detected by drugs tests?

Some sports people who take anabolic steroids escape detection because they stop taking the drugs prior to competition, giving the body time to break down the compounds.

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