There is a bounty of ergogenic aids available to athletes and exercise enthusiasts. These range from commonly known steroids, creatine (monohydrate), and other supplements to ergogenically designed clothing like Olympic swim suits or strong-man body suits. Ergogenic aids are often mentioned in the discussions of health and beg the issue of competitive morality. The usual argument is whether or not the ergogenic aid inappropriately or unfairly enhances the athlete’s performance, or described in one word, cheating. There are other risks of course which include a myriad of health related issues, acute, temporary or chronic and lifetime side affects which accompany using ergogenic aids.
Creatine is commonly used because of its relatively convenient availability at supplement and health food stores. It’s not uncommon to find high school athletes loading up on creatine cocktails for the hopeful benefit of increased muscle mass, endurance, strength and fast recovery. Martial artists specifically benefit from using creatine for the fact that creatine is thought to enhance high-intensity bursts of strength and facilitate quick recovery as well as promote the stamina needed for repetitious explosive moves. “Creatine is allowed by the International Olympic Committee, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and professional sports. However, the NCAA no longer allows colleges and universities to supply creatine to their students with school funds. Students are permitted to buy creatine on their own and the NCAA has no plans to ban creatine unless medical evidence indicates that it is harmful. With current testing methods, detection of supplemental creatine use would not be possible.” (Creatine, 2011) However, creatine is suspected for causing nausea, cramping, and an increased load on the kidneys.
A creatine supplementation and health variables study was conducted by Appalachian State University, headed by BK Schilling with the purpose of discerning the long-term effects of creatine as a supplement to include specifically the side effects, and training benefits. 26 athletes were studied and tested (blood) as well as questioned on their dietary habits, creatine supplementation, medical history, training history, and perceived effects of supplementation. General body fat composition as well as blood pressure and resting heart rate were recorded for each participant. It was found within this group that the expected gender differences were present. It also concluded that muscle injury, cramps, or other side effects were no more prevalent using creatine than without. It was concluded with this study that long-term creatine supplementation does not result in adverse health effects. PMID: 11224803 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Another over-the-counter performance-enhancing drug is dehydroepiandrosterone which is commonly known as DHEA. It is used in place of steroids and has many of the same side effects as steroids such as heart and liver damage. DHEA substances are converted in the body into anabolic steroids. (Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the testosterone hormone.) The goal of using DHEA is usually the same as using steroids, to gain muscle mass or to increase strength.
Research conducted by the Mayo Clinic by Dr. K. Dhatariya, MBBS, MRCP(UK), MSC, and K. Sreekumaran Nair, MD, PHD have performed research to find evidence of positive results in lab rats. However, lab rats are not the best subjects to correlate results or assume humans will have similar results because rats, unlike humans, do not produce DHEA endogenously (internally). Here is an abstract from Dr. Dhatariya’s research:
“Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfated ester are found in high concentrations in the plasma; however, their role in normal human physiology, other than as pre-cursors for sex hormones, remains incompletely defined. Studies of rodent models have shown that these hormones have beneficial effects on a wide variety of conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, immune function, atherosclerosis, and many of the disorders associated with normal aging. However, rodents are not the best models to study the actions of these hormones because they have very little endogenous DHEA; thus, the doses given to these animals are usually suprapharmacological. Human studies have been performcd to determine the potential beneficial effects of DHEA replacement in persons with low DHEA levels. Results have been conflicting. Human studies suggest a potential role for DHEA replacement in persons who have undergone adrenalectomy and possibly in the aging population. However, long-term studies assessing the benefits vs adverse effects must be done before DHEA replacement can be recommended…” (DHEA, 2011)
Whatever you may take from the information in this article, the truth of the matter is that supplements are not necessary for an athlete who trains diligently and consumes a healthy diet (specific to those mentioned in this article; beef, cod, salmon, and herring). Supplements and drugs may provide a temporary increase in performance but only proper training and diet will yield sustained athletic performance. The ethical matter of cheating is also to be considered and not to be redundant, the use and abuse of supplements can lead to serious health issues and death.
Schilling BK, Stone MH, Utter A, et al. Creatine supplementation and health variables: a retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001;33:183-8.
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