“… as long as men and women play sports, they will look for whatever edge is available to them. Some legal. Some not so legal,” says ESPN writer Jason Stark about the use of synthetic testosterone to boost performance in professional sports.
In August, San Francisco Giants left field Melky Cabrera and Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon were suspended after testing positive for synthetic testosterone, which can mimic anabolic steroids if used in sufficient quantities. The suspensions prompted at least one Major League Baseball insider to warn of an epidemic of the performance enhancing drugs within the sport.
Of course, if synthetic testosterone use is on the upswing in baseball, the same must almost certainly be true across the wider world of professional sports.
Compelled by aggressive direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns for new, easy-to-use topical hormone drugs, many men are turning to synthetic testosterone drugs to boost muscle tone and strength, energy levels, and libido, even when their natural hormone levels fall within the normal range.
Drugs such as Androgel and Testim are prescribed for men diagnosed with low testosterone, or Low-T. The products deliver synthetic testosterone in the form of a gel that is usually applied to the upper arms or shoulders. As harmless as it may sound, testosterone supplements can lead to a range of complications for those who use them as well as those who simply come into contact with the user.
For instance, women who come into contact with a user’s skin or clothing may develop some changes in hair distribution, acne outbreaks, and other unusual effects. Children may show premature signs of puberty, aggressive behavior, and advanced bone age.
Despite the risks, popularity of testosterone replacement therapies continues to soar. Last year alone, 5.6 million prescriptions for testosterone drugs were written and sales are expected to triple in the next five years. How much professional athletes account for these staggering sales figures isn’t known, but the suspension of two prominent baseball players in two weeks’ time suggests the problem is bigger than some outsiders might think.
According to the ESPN commentary, testing for synthetic testosterone use in athletes is getting better, but the artificial hormone is still notoriously difficult to detect – an “epic challenge,” to quote Mr. Stark.
“What makes synthetic testosterone so appealing … is that it’s supposed to vanish from the body’s system quickly, within six to eight hours,” he writes. “And if used in sufficiently small doses, it may not elevate testosterone levels enough to trigger further testing.”
“And it’s that ‘further’ testing — via the use of a process known as carbon isotope ratio testing — that is necessary to catch the synthetic testosterone crowd,” Mr. Stark explained.