Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BODYBUILDING PHARMACOLOGY : ’Roid Rage Research by Jerry Brainum

Many people claim that a user may undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality change after starting a cycle of steroids. Yet studies examining the psychological effects of anabolic steroids have been inconclusive. Some have shown increases in aggression and depression, the latter effect most commonly seen when the drug use ends. While there’s little doubt that hormones such as testosterone do affect brain function, the major debate is whether they do so beyond the active control of the individual. In short, is steroid use just an excuse for bad behavior?

Some studies show that, contrary to popular belief, men with the lowest levels of testosterone are often the angriest. Other studies show that testosterone exerts little effect on day-to-day mental function. The latest study to examine the effects of anabolic steroids on personality was presented at the 2006 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in late May.

It was conducted by a group of researchers from Australia and featured 18 men, average age 25, who were randomly assigned to a steroid or placebo group for six weeks.1 The subjects trained during the course of the study on similar workout programs. The steroid group was injected once a week with testosterone enanthate at a dose of 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. That amounts to just over 300 milligrams a week of testosterone—more than the dose for hormone replacement therapy but only about one-third the weekly average “athletic” dose. Those in the placebo group received a saline injection.

Psychometric tests measured the subjects’ personality changes. Initially, the groups showed no difference in anger, depression, tension or confusion. The testosterone group did show a slight increase in vigor, coupled with a decrease in fatigue, starting at the two-week mark. The major differences between the groups occurred in measures of sensitivity, with the testosterone group showing lower levels as the study went on.

Based on that finding, the authors suggest that “this dosage of testosterone may influence the ability to be empathetic, thus reducing sensitivity to other people’s considerations, which may explain the apparent aggressive behavior observed in anabolic steroid users.”

How Quickly Do Steroids Provide Athletic Benefits?

The same group of researchers presented another steroid study at the meeting that used the same group of healthy young men as subjects.2 Noting that an athlete’s average steroid cycle lasts eight to 12 weeks, the scientists wished to determine whether smaller doses of steroids than are commonly used can produce benefits when used for less time, specifically three to six weeks. Again, the dose of testosterone was 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. As in the previous study, one group used actual testosterone enanthate, while the other injected saline solution, though neither the subjects nor the researchers knew which was which.

The testosterone (T) group had an increase in one-rep-max bench press and total work during a cycle sprint by the third week. No changes occurred in the placebo group, and there were no significant differences in lower-body strength between groups, based on leg press and peak power tests. By the sixth week body mass had improved by 7 percent over baseline in the steroid group, but not in the placebo group.

Despite the evident improvements, 44 percent showed a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of less than 4, meaning that they would have passed a drug test. The T-to-E ratios in the testosterone group ranged from 2 to 37, while the ratios for the placebo group didn’t change. The results suggest that significant improvement from even a conservative dose of anabolic steroids can occur in only three weeks, and that level will likely not be detectable with present drug-testing procedures.

How Important Is Testosterone in Building Muscle Mass?

In muscle, testosterone is known to work with other factors, collectively known as myogenic regulating factors, to build muscle during a strength-training program. What happens if you suppress testosterone production in the body but continue to train?

To answer that question, researchers from Denmark designed a study that was presented at the 2006 ACSM meeting.3 Twenty-two young men with no strength-training experience were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The subjects in the first group were given an injection of Zoladex, which is a gonadotropin-releasing-hormone analogue, 3.6 milligrams every four weeks for a period of 12 weeks. The placebo group got a saline injection. Zoladex suppresses testosterone production.

The strength training began three weeks after the subjects received the injections. The workout program used by both groups emphasized leg training, with three to four sets per exercise and six to 10 reps per set. They trained three times a week. Various body composition and muscle biopsies were done. After eight weeks those in the placebo group showed an increase in isometric muscle strength, while the Zoladex group showed no strength increase. Lean mass increased in both groups but more in the placebo group.

Based on those findings, the researchers concluded that suppressing natural testosterone production results in less muscle size gain and no strength increase.

Is DHEA Anabolic in Older People Who Lift Weights?

Dehydroepiandrosterone is the predominant steroid circulating in the blood. It’s synthesized in the adrenal glands and can be converted into other steroids, such as testosterone and estrogen. Various studies show that in women, DHEA most often converts into testosterone, while in men it takes the estrogen pathway. That’s particularly true in those under 40. DHEA levels begin to decline in the late 20s, reaching a nadir by the 60s in most people. Some studies show that when DHEA supplements are provided to older people who show low blood levels of the hormone, various health benefits ensue. Much of that is attributed to decreased insulin resistance and increased levels of insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which maintains body tissues, including muscle.

Since many older people are deficient in DHEA and muscle weakness is common with advanced age, what would happen if you provided supplemental DHEA to older people engaged in a weight-training program? That was the focus of a study presented at the ACSM meeting by researchers from the University of Colorado.4

One hundred forty adults over age 60 who had low levels of DHEA were randomly assigned to a DHEA group that got 50 milligrams daily or a placebo group for one year, during which time they engaged in a weight program. Eighteen of the subjects who had never lifted weights stayed on the DHEA and trained for an additional six months.

Those in the DHEA group showed higher blood levels of DHEA and IGF-1 than the placebo group. The DHEA group also made greater gains in lean muscle mass.

The authors suggest that DHEA may provide anabolic effects mediated by a rise in IGF-1 in older people. That in turn would promote an increase in muscle size and strength. The result would not be applicable to those who are younger or not deficient in DHEA.

Ergogenic Effects of Caffeine

Two new studies presented at the 2006 ACSM meeting confirm the benefits of caffeine for those who lift weights. One study noted that most of the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine are shown during aerobic activity, such as increased use of fat as an energy source.5 The study examined whether caffeine would also aid those engaged in anaerobic exercise, such as weight training.

Eighteen highly trained athletes, average age 24, were placed in either a caffeine or a placebo group. Various tests measured glucose, cortisol, lactate and insulin. The groups performed three tests—leg press, bench press and the Wingate power test—60 minutes after they got caffeine or a placebo.

Those in the caffeine group lifted more on the bench press than those in the placebo group. No differences occurred on the leg press between the groups, but the caffeine group showed more peak power during the Wingate, which is a high-intensity cycling test. Those in the caffeine group also had higher postexercise levels of cortisol, glucose and insulin. The findings indicate that caffeine is a definite ergogenic aid for those engaged in weight training.

The second study looked at the effects that five milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight (same dose used in the previous study) had on delayed-onset muscle soreness.6 The soreness was induced by 64 eccentric, or negative, muscle contractions of the thigh muscles that were produced by electrical muscle stimulation machines. Nine young women took either caffeine or a placebo 24 and 48 hours following the muscular contractions.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness is considered the most acute form of muscle soreness, and it worsens with the passing hours after a workout. The major cause is muscle damage induced by heavy eccentric, or negative, muscle contractions.

In those who got caffeine after a workout known to induce DOMS, there was a large decrease in postworkout pain. That’s isn’t surprising, since caffeine is known to provide analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.


1 Coutts, R.A., et al. (2006). Effect of short-term use of testosterone enanthate on personality and mood in healthy young males. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38(5):S409.

2 Deakin, G., et al. (2006). Performance enhancement and urinary detection after short-term testosterone enanthate use. Med Sci Sports Exer. 38:S405.

3 Kvorning, T., et al. (2006). The significance of endogenous testosterone on the adaptation to strength training.Med Sci Sports Exeric. 38:S53.

4 Jankowski, C., et al. (2006). Does dehydroepiandrosterone replacement augment gains in lean mass with resistance training in older adults? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S53.

5 Bidwell,W., et al. (2006). Effect of caffeine as an ergogenic aid on anaerobic performance in highly trained athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S174.

6 Maridakis, V., et al. (2006). Caffeine attenuates delayed-onset muscle pain following eccentric exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:S175.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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