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Steroids could give athletes an advantage, even years later

September 25, 2008 |  8:00 am

Into the roiling kettle of debate on anabolic steroids comes this news: The effects from anabolic steroids may linger even years after taking the stuff.

BicepsBut we’re not talking about possible ill effects that are often cited, such as high cholesterol levels, liver damage, acne and high blood pressure. Researchers have recently discovered that athletes who once took steroids could reap a competitive advantage later on.

In a study presented at an American Physiological Society conference held this week in Hilton Head, S.C., Swedish researchers tested three groups of power lifters — one that had used anabolic steroids for long periods, but stopped years ago. Another group didn’t use steroids at all, and a third was currently taking steroids. They examined various data in all groups from a muscle in the quadriceps in the thigh and from the trapezius in the shoulder and neck area.

They found that the power lifters who once took steroids but were now doing little or no strength training had a comparable number of nuclei per fiber in the quadriceps to that of the athletes engaged in high intensity strength training. Those trapezius muscle fiber areas were also similar to those of the athletes currently training, and the nuclei-per-fiber numbers were even higher than in the group currently using steroids.

In a release, Anders Eriksson, from the department of integrative medical biology at Umea University in Sweden and the study’s lead author, said those extra nuclei could lend an advantage: "It is possible that the high number of nuclei we found in the muscle might be beneficial for an athlete who continues or resumes strength training because increased myonuclei opens up the possibility of increasing protein synthesis, which can lead to muscle mass."

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Gary Hershorn / Reuters