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Anabolic Hormones - A Two-Edged Sword
When I was a young boy, emerging muscles were the coolest thing. If a vein popped out a little, that was even more awesome. There were no fitness centers or body building gyms to amount to anything back then (Stone Age). If you aspired to brawn, Charles Atlas paraphernalia advertised in comic books was guaranteed to help you turn the cards on the guy who kicked sand in your face on the beach last summer.
Back then, muscles seemed more legitimate if you earned them from work on the farm or from other labor. Muscles from exercise were thought of as sort of "artificial". So I did lots of farm work and construction in the summers. But leaving nothing to chance, I also cheated by building my own weight set with a pipe that I would insert into the holes of cement blocks.
My dad was of the school that I had better be careful or I could get all "muscle bound" if I exercised too much. I guess he must have worried as he saw me in the back yard hoisting my pipe with blocks dangling from each end. But I loved the exercise and reveled in the pumped feeling in my biceps.
Sorry to sound so narcissistic. But it's the way all of us "guys" thought. We would even compare bumps on the school bus every morning and banter about who could do the most push-ups. This is not to say muscles and fitness are still not important to me, but now I focus primarily on exercise that will help me stay healthy, in shape and trained for the competitive sports I play.
I bring this up not to brag or appall you, but as a backdrop for the current situation in the sport and bodybuilding worlds. Now that society is off the farm, exercise has become a perfectly legitimate way to replace the physical activity lost with modern living. The use of hormones to force the body to grow in a way it would never do naturally, however, is a perversion of what should be clean and healthy personal development. Anabolic hormones totally miss the point of it all. The freaky bodies that can result are aberrations, yet magazines are filled with their photo spreads as if drug induced bodies are icons we should emulate and aspire to.
Aside from the fact that only people with natural bodies and developed talents should compete in sports (otherwise drugs are competing, not athletes), the real tragedy is the toll on health any hormone can take. Of all the drugs I used in medical practice, hormones scared me the most. They could create dramatic and immediate results (and that is their allure), but hormone treatment continued for any length of time always seemed to come back to harm the patient and haunt me.
An example in humans is the use of testosterone patches in women to increase libido. Take them very long and although your passion may be triggered, your voice will deepen and a beard will start to grow (not so good for the libido of the husband). Corticosteroids for allergies can result in extremely serious adrenal gland diseases, immune suppression and vulnerability to infection. In veterinary medicine the same things can happen. One situation I am reminded of that occurred many years ago was related to hormones given to dogs for birth control. Years after discontinuing the drugs, treated dogs would present to veterinarians with life threatening illness, extreme thirst and white blood cell counts off the charts. When their enlarged abdomens were surgically explored, a gigantic uterus would be found filled with pus - quarts of it! All this just because a little ole hormone was given years ago without a hint of an immediate ill effect.
You see, the body is extremely wise. It is not fooled or endlessly forgiving. If you break your arm and put it in a sling, the muscles don't grow bigger, they atrophy. Why? Because the body is also efficient. Why grow muscles or even maintain them if they are not needed? When the sling is removed, the arm will have lost much of its strength. The body shuttled its resources into building bigger muscles in the arm that had to do double duty. It's a very pragmatic thing. The body doesn't pay attention to your agenda; it just does what it must to stay alive, make do and meet stress.
The same thing would happen to both arms - to your whole body - if you had servants do everything for you as you reclined in an easy-chair. Then, if all of a sudden you had to get out of the chair and run a mile or lift 200 pounds to survive, you wouldn't make it. Your wasted and weak body could not rise to the challenge.
Hormones are like a metabolic sling placed on the hormone producing glands-testicles, ovaries, adrenal, thyroid, pituitary, etc. They replace the hormones that the glands normally produce. When this happens there is a negative feed-back: the more hormones from the outside that are introduced into the body, the less the glands do what they no longer need to - synthesize hormones. So the metabolic "muscles" (glands) that create hormones atrophy. If all of a sudden the outside source of hormones is withdrawn, your weak and withered organs may then not have the strength to take up the task again and supply hormones. Since about every function in the body is hormone-influenced, and every hormone interacts with every other hormone in some way, catastrophe results. Is it any wonder that modern anabolic body builders are also racked with heart disease, cancer, immune disorders, digestive failure and metabolic disorders in their (early) later years? The use of anabolic hormones is most certainly a case of desire being a ruinous tenant of its landlord, the body.
Consider this also with regard to anabolics. A normal body weight of 170 lbs. can be changed to 250 lbs. of solid muscle. To get there, massive amounts of food have to be consumed. Yet digestive "muscle" is not being built to keep pace, So the digestive tract and associated organs (liver, pancreas, gall bladder) suited for maintaining a 170 lb. body is forced to digest and assimilate extremely large amounts of food? The result is digestive exhaustion and resultant damage that can last a lifetime. Most of us suffer some digestive problems and intolerances as we age due in large part to eating abuses when we were young. Note the number of television commercials hawking stomach remedies. Body builders force feeding can exaggerate this damage leaving a ruined digestive system tolerant of little more than Maalox..
A huge number of high school kids are trying to "get big" with steroids. What an incredibly dangerous proposition for them. Parents, be aware that this is not innocuous. If the plea is that a little won't hurt, particularly if they are "cycled" properly, don't buy it. If the argument is that taking them is the only way to excel in a sport, then change sports. Insist.
For you adults who are toying with the idea of taking hormones for one reason or another, think long and hard. Read the contraindications and cautions on the drug insert sheets. Take heed. Find other ways to stimulate your body's own natural ability to enhance or improve itself through exercise, lifestyle and nutrition. Don't put your organs in slings and then expect long-term benefit.
The piper will always be paid.
Dr. Wysong is a former veterinary clinician and surgeon, college instructor in human anatomy, physiology and the origin of life, inventor of numerous medical, surgical, nutritional, athletic and fitness products and devices, research director for the present company by his name and founder of the philanthropic Wysong Institute. He is author of The Creation-Evolution Controversy now in its eleventh printing, a new two volume set on philosophy for living, several books on nutrition, prevention and health for people and animals and over 15 years of monthly health newsletters.
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