The VADA Tells A Cautionary Tale

The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) has put out a balanced and cautionary tale about the role of performance enhancing drugs in society. The article by Dr. Rodrigo Aguilera takes three different views of performance enhancing drugs. The first view reminds us of the intended use of several ‘performance-enhancing' drugs along with the promise of gene therapy. Instead of vilifying all drugs, the author reminds us of the benefits of drugs like aspirin.

Then the author then turns a scornful eye toward professional athletes that feel like they need to take PEDs in order to maintain a certain competitive edge. It is argued that athletes simply need to put in more time and effort into the sport to get that same advantage. Unfortunately, this type of thinking is frankly wrong and not helpful for athletes. The problem with PEDs is that they work really really well. They help an athlete improve performance by either enhancing muscle mass, decreasing recovery time, increasing the capacity for oxygen in the blood, or by somehow decreasing a natural ailment in the sport (think using a muscle relaxer to quell natural muscle spasms in archery).

The final part of the article documents the side effects that steroids can have on the body.

1. Steroids may cause Osteonecrosis (bone death and destruction) in the hip or shoulder, and produce tendon and ligament damage.
2. Steroids cause Gynecomastia: increased growth of breast tissue that is irreversible and requires surgical excision.
3. Steroids will affect the heart and blood vessels. An increase in red blood cell count will lead to Polycythemia and blood coagulation, which causes high blood pressure and an increasing risk of blood clots or thrombosis. This places the athlete at risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure and death.
4. Steroids are toxic to the liver and lead to certain varieties of liver cancer.
5. Steroids can lead to Cholestasis, an interruption in bile excretion. Bile helps the body break down fat. Accumulation produces jaundice-yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
6. Steroids decrease sugar (glucose) tolerance and thyroid function.
7. Steroids accelerate male-pattern baldness
8. In Females: Womenʼs breasts will shrink and produces Hirsutism: male-pattern hair on face, armpits, and pubic areas. Vocal cord hypertrophy leads to deepening of the voice. Ovary function is suppressed, so the menstrual cycle becomes irregular or stops. Steroids may cause birth defects.

Boxing and frankly all sports are at a crossroads. Designer drugs will always be more profitable than inventing improved testing techniques given the current economic structure of most sports. Therefore each sport has to decide what amount of cheating will be acceptable. The current testing situation in boxing condones a large variety of performance enhancing drugs and therapies. If the fans want to clean up the sport they need to sport initiatives like the VADA, where advanced drug testing is accomplished with minimal cost. Do you guys think that the current drug testing situation is satisfactory? What else could the VADA do to become more mainstream?

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