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Helping Athletes Succeed…Naturally!

This quote is an inspirational and motivational mantra by which teenage athletes should live–not die. Unfortunately, everyday, teenage athletes across America are playing Russian roulette with their health, as well as their lives. They seem desperate to gain any competitive edge they can, and the frightening reality is that many of them are not even aware that they are putting themselves at risk.

What are these teens doing to themselves? Simple: the same thing many of their professional idols are being accused of doing—taking anabolic steroids. This is a real problem. However, as athletic mentors and physicians we can do something about it.

Like any difficult situation, the solution is not easy or quick. It requires acknowledging and understanding the problem, then speaking out by educating parents, trainers, coaches, and, most importantly, teenage athletes.

What are steroids, what do they do, and why are they dangerous

Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs designed to mimic the hormone testosterone. Some of the most commonly abused steroids are taken orally in pill form. They include Anadrol 50, Oxandrin, Dianabol and Winstrol. Injectable steroids include Deca-Durabolin, Durabolin, Depo-Testosterone and Equipose.

Users get these drugs from a number of sources, including over the Internet from foreign markets. If you think it is only the football players, baseball players, and weightlifters who use steroids, think again: men and teenage boys who believe they are small and weak; female athletes; and women and girls, who think they are too fat and flabby. People use steroids to not only improve the appearance of their bodies, but to boost their self image as well.

Surveys suggest that the greatest increase in anabolic steroid use is among teenage athletes who are motivated by looking, feeling and performing better, regardless of the dangers. A teenage athlete once said to me, “God does not create men equal, so ‘juice’ makes up for his mistakes.” The funny thing is, anabolic steroids do increase muscle strength and size, but they do not improve agility, cardiovascular capacity, or skill level. Ultimately, it is a person’s skill that makes a great athlete, not muscle.

Steroids cause serious, multiple health problems

1) The premature closing of the growth centers. The long bones in teenagers who haven’t finished growing shut down; once the growth centers close, they cannot be reopened. This could result in a shorter stature than nature had intended.

2) Weakened tendons. These patients will also become more susceptible to tendon injuries because steroids have been shown to weaken tendon structures.

3) Gender-specific side-effects. In men, prolonged steroid use can result in reduced sperm count, impotence, baldness, the development of breasts, and difficulty or pain in urinating. In women, the side effects of taking steroids include the growth of facial hair, a deepening of the voice (which in most cases is permanent), breast-size reduction, and changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle.

4) Additional side-effects. Both men and women are at risk for clotting disorders, liver damage, premature heart attacks and stroke, and elevated LDL cholesterol levels. Users who share needles are also at risk for developing HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, which causes serious damage to the liver.

Chiropractors, family physicians, and sports-medicine doctors are in a unique position to watch out for signs of steroid use. Teens who use steroids may have acne—sometimes severe—on their face, back and chest. They may appear bloated in the face and in overall appearance because drug use causes the body to retain more water. Parents may mention a period of rapid weight gain in a relative short period of time, as well as behavior changes such as a quick temper and lack of patience.

All of these things should raise a red flag during an examination.

The problem and what you can do about it

This national epidemic has stepped out of the locker room and into the homes of families across the country. It is important to understand that the steroid problem does not discriminate, and that it affects both teenage boys and girls—not only athletes but also those who are looking to improve their physical appearance. There is a silver lining within all this madness, and you can do something about it and become part of the solution. You can begin by speaking out and taking a stand against performance enhancing drugs at every possible opportunity.

Steroid surveys and the shocking results

In 2004, the National Institute of Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health funded a study entitled “Monitoring the Future Study.” Conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, researchers surveyed 45,173 students from a representative sample of 435 public and private schools nationwide. The student response was 86 percent.

Of the students who responded, 1.9 percent of 8th graders, 2.4 percent of 10th graders and 3.4 percent of 12th graders reported using anabolic steroids at least once in their short lives. Bob Goldman, M.D., author of Death in a Locker Room, has conducted surveys of athletes every two years since 1982. In the survey he asks, “If you were offered a performance-enhancing substance with two guarantees, that you will not be caught and you will win, would you take the substance?” The results are consistent in every survey: out of 198 athletes surveyed, 195 said yes.

Goldman also asked, “You are again offered a performance-enhancing substance with two guarantees, that you will not be caught and you will win every competition you enter for the next five years, but you will die from the side effects of the substance. Would you take it?” More than 50 percent responded yes.

To cheat or not to cheat

Drug abuse in sports is not a new phenomenon, but it is growing in scope and the pressure on athletes is increasing every day.

One Olympic hopeful said, “Unless you stop the drug abuse in sport, I have to do drugs. I’m not going to spend the next two years training, away from my family, missing my college education, to be an Olympian and then be cheated out of a medal by some guy from Europe or Asia who is on a government-sponsored drug program.”

“To be a great athlete today, you need a great coach, a great chemist, and a great lawyer.”—Sports Illustrated, 1997 April 14

I’m happy to inform you that there is silver lining in this national crisis, Acting New Jersey Governor Richard Codey has recently appointed an 18-member task force to investigate the extent of steroid use be high school athletes in the state. Responsibilities of the task force on steroids are as follows:

  1. Hold public hearings this fall to determine the physical and psychological effects of steroids on teenagers.
  2. Determine the extent of the problem among high school athletes.
  3. Determine the legality and practicality of mandatory statewide testing of high school athletes.
  4. Develop a steroid education program to be taught in all schools, and determine the appropriate setting (such as in health class or gym).
  5. Examine the effects of nutritional supplements and other performance enhancers, and decide whether to add information on them to the steroid education program.

I am happy to inform you that the National Coalition for the Advancement of Drug-Free Athletics (NCADFA) has already contacted Governor Codey’s office and offered to help assist the task force in any way possible.

Being aware of and understanding that the steroid problem is already big and growing each day in this country and, quite possibly, in your neighborhood is a key factor in this fight. You can do something about it, and it is just a matter of acting, taking a stand and educating the youth of today against the dangers of steroids.

Get The “Natural” Edge

The most underutilized and overlooked, natural performance enhancing tool available to any athlete, (of any age) is the chiropractic adjustment. Why, you may ask? The answer is simple— because only chiropractors are trained to identify and correct interference in an athlete’s nervous system. It’s important that you understand, for an athlete to perform at their best, their nervous system needs to be a clear as possible. Only regular chiropractic care ensures that body consistently is able to perform at its peak in all areas. This not only includes physically, but mentally and chemically as well. Remember, balance, hand-eye coordination, body control, and reflexive reaction time are all neurological acts which require a good nerve supply to be performed at 100%. Improved skill level makes a better athlete, not simply size and strength. If you’re looking to get the “Natural Edge” and improve your skill level, be sure regular chiropractic care is part of your game.