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Phuket Health: Steroids 101 – The good, the bad and the ugly

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PHUKET: Steroids can be found and bought over the counter all over the place in Phuket. Most pharmacies stock them, and I have known some gyms to sell them as well.

The term “steroid” is commonly – and mistakenly – used to describe any performance-enhancing drug. This simply is not accurate.

Steroids are synthetic hormones. For example, diabetics that have to inject insulin are taking steroids. If you have ever been in an accident, the local hospitals here will inject you with cortisol to reduce inflammation – that is a steroid too. Various forms of birth control and many other medicines are steroids… and the list goes on and on.

The popular perception of a “steroid” is the intake of synthetic testosterone, which is what this article will discuss.

Testosterone is the hormone that instructs your body to increase muscle size and strength, and which helps you recover from workouts faster. It is used frequently in Thailand for recreational purposes, as it is easily accessible and cheap. However, the use of steroids is widely frowned upon.

Excessive use of synthetic testosterone can result in a number of side effects. For men, side effects can range from hair growth (sorry, not the kind that would help baldness), a decrease in sperm count, acne, high cholesterol and even testicular atrophy (look it up). This decrease in sperm count can even lead to sterility. However, all of these side effects are reversible once a man comes off the drug.

Some of the side effects for women, though, are not reversible. In addition to acne and hair growth, excessive use of steroids can also cause problems with the menstrual cycle, deepening of the voice and enlargement of the clitoris – the latter two being irreversible.

However, the use of synthetic testosterone been looked down upon so widely that not much research has been initiated to find out exactly what the longer term effects are.

In terms of the popular phrase coined “roid rage”, it’s a myth. Yes, an increase in testosterone has been shown to make users more aggressive – but not psychotic.

So, here comes the big, hotly-debated question: is taking steroids cheating?

While it may be tempting to consider the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sports as a modern phenomenon, the taking of substances to beat the competition has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years. There is evidence that the Ancient Greeks and Romans gave their athletes special potions to improve their performance, and this trend continues to the present day, albeit with more sophisticated methods.

If the rules of your sport do not allow you to take steroids, then, yes, taking them would count as cheating.

But what if the sport does not have any rules against steroids?

They are allowed in many body-building competitions, for one, but they are still looked down upon.

Did you know that when the Olympics started in Athens, it was considered cheating if you practiced your sport outside of the games or worked to come up with better techniques to win?

What would they think of the athletes nowadays who wear spiked shoes to run? That would have definitely been considered cheating, right?

What about athletes who trick their bodies into producing more red blood cells? This increases the amount of oxygen in their systems, which leads to more endurance. There are four ways to do this: first, by sleeping in a hypobaric chamber; second, by training in special facilities located above 6,000 feet above sea level; third, blood doping, a process in which you draw blood from your body one month before a competition and then inject it the night before; or fourth, by taking a drug called EPO (Epoetin), which simply tells your body to produce more red blood cells.

Those are four ways to do the exact same thing to enhance your performance, but two are allowed and two are considered cheating.

So while I’ve got you forming opinions about what is cheating and what is not, think about this: What if someone comes up with a way of making our bodies naturally produce enough testosterone to imitate the results of someone on synthetic testosterone? Would this change the way we think about it?

Personally, I am not for taking synthetic testosterone. I will admit that, though, that I would love to see an Olympics where anything goes.

Krix Luther is a fully qualified personal trainer with nearly a decade of experience specializing in strength and conditioning. He teaches fitness classes three times a week at Rawai Supa Muay Thai. For more information about Krix and his services, visit www.thevitruvianmethod.com

— Krix Luther

 

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