Friday, October 12, 2012

All Men Are Created Equal—Or Are They? by Jerry Brainum

     Certain genetic attributes bestow a greater chance of success in bodybuilding competition, among them a bone structure that includes naturally wide shoulders and a narrow waist. Longer muscle attachments are associated with fuller muscles that contain more muscle fibers, which means that people who have those characteristics can build larger muscles with regular training. The development of specific muscle groups, such as the calves, is strongly related to genetics. One bodybuilding axiom is that when it comes to calves, development is largely based on a genetic head start.
      What about hormones? Do champion bodybuilders have naturally higher levels of such anabolic hormones as testosterone and growth hormone? It’s no secret that unlike muscle structure and shape, hormones can be controlled through the use of various drugs, including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, insulin and insulinlike growth factor 1. Using doses of them that are well beyond what’s normally prescribed for the treatment of hormonal deficiencies enables a person to exceed normal genetic limitations in muscle size.
     What about natural levels of anabolic hormones in people who don’t use any type of anabolic drug? Research shows that having higher levels of testosterone leads to more rapid gains in muscle size and strength. Maintaining levels of growth hormone and IGF-1 preserves muscle size and function as people age, and depressed levels lead to muscle loss and bodyfat gain as well as various degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
     Perhaps the most controversial aspect of hormones in men relates to racial differences in how they work in the body. In many sports, black athletes show superior athletic skills. Some have attributed that to their having higher levels of testosterone, which favors more muscle and less fat in the body, a scenario that relates to athletic success. Others cite the special attraction of sports to minorities, who see sport as a path to financial success. Muhammad Ali once commented that if it hadn’t been for his boxing skills, he would have wound up “picking up garbage cans in Louisville.”
      Hormone research has identified some health issues that have a race component. Black men experience higher rates of prostate cancer, which some scientists relate to higher testosterone levels than whites. According to statistics released by the American Cancer Society, the rate of prostate cancer in black men is 62 percent greater, with a mortality rate that is 241 percent greater than in white men of the same age. Studies that have compared testosterone levels in younger black and white men reveal that on average black men have slightly higher levels, although the racial disparity fades with the passing years.
     A recent study surveyed 538 black, 651 Hispanic and 710 white men, aged 30 to 79, and measured any racial variations in androgen levels.1 The androgens studied included total testosterone, free testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and dehydroepitestosterone (DHEA). The researchers noted that a variation in average levels of Big T by race would mandate an adjustment in how testosterone is measured and what constitutes normal amounts. The study found no differences in levels of total and free T, SHBG and DHEA. Black men in the study, however, had the highest levels of DHT. The measure was only slightly higher than in the other two groups but was considered statistically significant.
Having more DHT would predispose men to prostate cancer. Most doctors believe, incorrectly that higher testosterone levels lead to prostate cancer. The evidence is that test doesn’t actually cause prostate cancer but does feed the activity of malignant tumors. Many doctors argue that the issue is moot, since test converts into DHT through the action of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. Some studies show that black men with prostate cancer have higher 5AR activity, as well as more responsive androgen receptors in their prostate glands. That would help explain a higher risk for prostate cancer.
     Not all research agrees with that finding, however. A study measured T and DHT in the prostate tissue of black and white men, none of whom had prostate cancer.2 The hormone levels were similar in both groups. The study noted that black men may have a genetic predisposition to produce a type of 5AR that’s more active in converting T into DHT. Other possible factors include alterations in the androgen receptor gene, loss of apoptotic control—meaning the body’s ability to kill cancer; aged and damaged cells;differences in androgen signaling; overproduction of a gene that causes cells to multiply; and overproduction of growth factors that favor cancer, such as IGF-1.
     From a bodybuilding perspective, it appears that hormonally, all men are indeed created equal. On the other hand, the subjects studied weren’t bodybuilders or other athletes, so the influence of diet and exercise unique to bodybuilding weren’t factored into the results. Exercise, for example, increases testosterone levels. Would black bodybuilders be at greater risk of prostate disease because of naturally higher 5AR activitity? What about using anabolic steroids for years—would that be considered more dangerous for black athletes?  Those questions await further research.
     In the meantime, it may be a good idea for black athletes to consider taking substances that offer natural protection against toxic amounts of DHT, such as green tea. Drugs such as Avodart and Proscar, both of which are prescribed to treat prostate disease, do the same thing. Many bodybuilders are already using them to combat the increase in DHT that results from using certain testosterone-based drugs.
Does Growth Hormone Offer Cardiovascular Protection?

    The greatest danger to the health of those who use large doses of anabolic steroids is cardiovascular risk. Taking oral anabolic steroids reduces blood levels of high-density lipoprotein, which is known as the “good cholesterol” because it removes excess cholesterol from the blood, carting it off to the liver, where it’s converted into bile. HDL also blocks the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein, a.k.a. the “bad cholesterol,” which is important because LDL is toxic only when oxidized.
      Another way that steroids predispose someone to cardiovascular disease is by increasing the stickiness of platelets in the blood, which leads to the formation of arterial blood clots, often the immediate cause of heart attacks and strokes. Steroids also adversely affect the endothelium, or lining of arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
       Arterial endothelial dysfunction leads to stiffness of the large elastic arteries, which in turn results in high blood pressure. High blood pressure strains the heart. The heart responds by increasing the size of the left ventricle, its pumping chamber, and an oversize left ventricle may eventually result in heart failure.
      While anabolic steroids can have negative effects on heart function, growth hormone has a beneficial effect. Using GH reverses arterial stiffness and lowers blood cholesterol while increasing HDL. On the negative side, GH also increases lipoprotein (a), which has effects similar to LDL.
       A new study examined what happens when former users of anabolic steroids get more than usual amounts of GH.3 Forty-eight subjects were divided into a control group that got no drugs and a group that got a dose of GH comparable to what bodybuilders typically use. Although the experiment lasted for only six days, some interesting effects occurred.
      The men in the GH group experienced bodyfat loss and an increase in VO2 max, a measure of oxygen intake. IGF-1 also increased, as it usually does when you use GH. They also showed an increase in blood sodium, a finding consistent with GH-related water retention. Levels of serum homocysteine, C-reactive protein, thyroid-stimulating hormone and thyroid hormones all declined in the GH group but not in the control group.
      Lowering homocysteine and C-RP is considered beneficial, since they’re both related to cardiovascular disease. Those in the GH group also had an elevated pulse pressure and resting heart rate, which was attributed to an increase in nitric oxide activity, and the added arterial stress when the body is at rest is linked to endothelial dysfunction, the cornerstone of cardiovascular disease.
      The GH subjects also experienced a rise in blood urea one week after they stopped using the drug—likely indicating an increase in catabolism due to increased protein breakdown. The authors suggest that it may represent a rebound effect from suddenly getting off GH. That’s something to consider if you’re interested in using GH.
      The conclusion was that while GH reduces many adverse cardiovascular effects of anabolic steroids, the increased resting pulse pressure and heart rate are a matter of concern, as they also represent a considerable cardiovascular risk.
1 Litman, H.J., et al. (2006). Serum androgen levels in black, Hispanic, and white men. J Clin Endocrin Metabol. 91:4326–4334.
2 Marks, L.S., et al. (2006). Prostatic tissue testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in African-American and white men. Urology. 68:337–341.
3 Graham, M.R., et al. (2007). Evidence for a decrease in cardiovascular risk factors following recombinant growth hormone administration in abstinent anabolic-androgenic steroid users. Growth Hor IGF-1 Res. 1717(3):201–209.

©,2012, Jerry Brainum.Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.

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