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A possible link between anabolic steroid abuse and kidney damage

November 3, 2009 |  5:03 pm

Abusing anabolic steroids can carry numerous health risks. In a new study of bodybuilders who abused the substance, a link may have been found between that misuse and serious kidney problems.

Ks1k89nc In a study presented recently to the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrologyin San Diego, researchers looked at a small number of bodybuilders who had documented long-term abuse of anabolic steroids and kidney complications.

Among the 10 men, some had proteinuria, or high levels of protein in the urine, as well as renal insufficiency, or poor kidney function caused by reduced blood flow to the kidneys. Five had full nephrotic syndrome, indicated by proteinuria, low levels of protein in the blood, and high cholesterol. Nine had focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or scarring in the kidneys.

After they stopped using steroids, almost all of the bodybuilders' kidney problems improved. One study participant, however, developed advanced kidney disease and needed dialysis. Another of the bodybuilders resumed his use of steroids and developed kidney dysfunction again.

Researchers believe that the problems could be related to their substantial gains in muscle mass, which signals the kidneys to step up filtration. That added stress could lead to kidney damage. They also noted that similar organ damage is seen in morbidly obese people, but in bodybuilders it seems to be even more serious.

"Athletes who use anabolic steroids and the doctors caring for them need to be aware of the potentially serious risks to the kidney," said Dr. Leal Herlitz of Columbia University Medical Center and lead author of the study in a news release.

-- Jeannine Stein

 Photo credit: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images