Understanding the groups of doping substances available

Most of us moms and dads participated in sport a long time ago, when it was still fun and more or less honest! The whole concept of doping can be scary and foreign. This is just a brief education for those of us who know very little, and it is not for the feint hearted!

For those of you who are actually buying this stuff for your children, or providing the funds , this information might get you thinking!


Steroids (such as dehydroepiandrosterone)make an athlete’s muscles big and strong, they may become dependent on it and it may:

· cause acne

· cause balding

· increase the risk of liver and cardiovascular disease

· cause mood swings

· cause a person to be more aggressive

· could make one suicidal

Guys may look forward to:

· shrinking testicles

· breast growth

· reduced sex drive and even impotence

· decrease in sperm production

Ladies may look forward to:

· deeper voice

· excessive facial and body hair

· abnormal menstrual cycles

· an enlarged clitoris


EPO (erythropoetin) helps the way in which the body uses oxygen, it increases the amount of oxygen an athlete’s blood carries, helping particularly with endurance sports. But it can lead to death. It can make the blood thick and sticky, and trying to pump this through your veins may:

· cause one to feel weak, which is not great for training!

· lead to high blood pressure

· demand that the heart has to work so hard that it may lead to a heart attack or stroke (no matter what age!)


Stimulants (for example amphetamines) are used to heighten the competitive edge, but they can cause:

· insomnia

· involuntary shaking or trembling

· problems with co-ordination and balance

· feeling of anxiety and aggression

· an increased and irregular heart rate

· a heart attack or stroke (even if you are very young)


HGH (human growth hormone) makes muscles and bones stronger, and helps with faster recovery. But more than just muscles get bigger. Using HGH may result in:

· acromegaly – protruding forehead, brow, skull & jaw – which cannot be reversed

· an enlarged heart that can result in high blood pressure and even heart failure

· damage to the liver, thyroid and vision

· crippling arthritis


Some athletes try to cheat the system by using diuretic and other substances to cover-up the signs of using banned substances. The side-effects can affect the ability to compete and train. One may:

· become dizzy or even faint

· become dehydrated

· get muscle cramps

· have a drop in blood pressure

· lose co-ordination and balance

· become confused and moody

· develop cardiac disorders


Marijuana, cannabis, pot – whatever you may call it – it is still banned! Marijuana can have a negative effect on athletic performance and health. Using it may:

· reduce memory, attention and motivation – even resulting in learning disabilities

· weaken the immune system

· affect the lungs (chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, even throat cancer)

· lead to psychological and physical dependence


Narcotics, like heroine and morphine, may help you forget about pain, but would compromise athletic performance due to:

· weakened immune system

· decreased heart rate and suppressed respiratory system

· loss in balance, co-ordination and concentration

· gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and constipation

They are also highly addictive – the mind and body quickly become dependent on them.


There are methods of administering substances or manipulating your physiology that are banned. These methods can also have negative effects on the body, for example:

Blood doping, including having blood transfusions to change the way your blood carries oxygen to the rest of your body, may result in:

· an increased risk of heart failure, stroke, kidney damage and high blood pressure

· problems with your blood, like infections, poisoning, overloading of your white cells, and reduction of your platelet count

· problems with your circulatory system


The thing about supplements is that there is very little evidence to prove the effect of many of the supplements on the market. So we don’t actually know if they work or not! (I suppose you have got to ask yourself if you are just buying your child expensive wee?) Different individuals react differently to the same product.  The most worrying thing is that the manufacture of supplements is not very well regulated, this means two things:

· the quantities of the substances and the make-up of the supplement may change every time the product is produced.

· the risk of contamination exists. This means that the supplement your child uses might have some banned substances in them and you won’t even know, and don’t expect it to be on the label. This could result in a positive drugs test and a ruined career. And it only has to happen once!

If you ask any organisation in authority their view on supplements, they will tell you to stay away, the risk is too great. But the general feeling amongst athletes is that they want to use supplements, and that they help with performance.

So if you feel the pressure, and must go out and buy some supplements for your child, we you consult with a registered dietician about what supplements your child needs, not all are appropriate for school children, and needs vary. Any good dietician will work hard at getting you to make sure that your child’s diet is right first, and then supplement with supplements…. that is what they are for, after all!

Adapted from “Dangers of Doping” published by South African Institute  for Drug-Free Sport (www.drug-free.org.za)

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