August 13, 2004
Quick Testosterone Muscle Boosting Makes Use Hard To Detect
The New Scientist reports on a surprising result where it was found that testosterone works so rapidl to boost muscle mass that athletes may be able to escape detection from blood tests by using testosterone for short periods.
The received wisdom is that testosterone must be injected weekly for at least 10 weeks. Yet sports scientist Robert Weatherby of Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, who conducted the study, found the biggest increase in performance came after just three weeks.
Taking testosterone for short periods only, taking smaller doses, or doing both, would reduce the chances of athletes getting caught by drugs testers. "Athletes have probably already figured this out, and we are just confirming that scientifically,"
More methods that increase athletic performance while leaving smaller chemical footprints will be found. It will becoe steadily more difficult to detect illegal drug use.
One factor that may shift the advantage back toward the anti-doping agencies is the identification of all the DNA sequence variations that have some effect on athletic performance. Once DNA sequences can be tested for each athlete it will become possible to state that for some athlete his performance exceeds his genetic potential and that therefore he must be cheating. But such DNA testing is still several years away and in the meantime banned performance boosting techniques will become harder to detect. So expect more successful cheating.
"Athletes have probably already figured this out, and we are just confirming that scientifically,"
Yeah, I was perusing bodybuilding websites and chat rooms about 6-7 months ago, and the athletes have known this for a while. There are a lot of idiots out there, but there are a lot of smart ones too.
The conventional wisdom among bodybuilders (the ones who want to play it safe, anyway) is to cycle: most of the benefit comes in the first 2-3 weeks, and most of the negative consequences come after 2-3 weeks. So go on the "juice" for 2-3 weeks, then go off for a similar or longer period (and use testosterone-to-estrogen-aromatization blockers) to prevent the body's normal hormone mechanisms from screwing up. Screwed up hormone production has negative health consequences in the long term, but for these athletes, it could also mark them for detection.
Proper periodic alternation (every 3-4 hours) of fast- and slow-digesting protein prevents catabolism and to a degree promotes anabolism, so you can safely go off the juice well before an event to avoid detection during the event. The cycling hopefully decreases your chance of being caught in the off-season (if random screenings are in place).
The risk is still there, but you only take it as far as you're willing to risk.
I forgot to mention the reasoning behind the aromatization blockers. While not known for sure, it's believed that the hormone problems of testosterone are regulated thus:
Testosterone is supplemented, increasing total blood testosterone concentration.
Testosterone is aromatized to estrogen, increasing total blood estrogen concentration.
Elevated blood testoesterone AND estrogen levels are detected, and testosterone production is down-regulated.
Lower testosterone production leads to lower aromatization rate, leading to lower or stabilizing estrogen levels.
The end result is the body thinks it needs to produce less testosterone to maintain testosterone levels (which it only indirectly measures through estrogen levels).
By preventing aromatization, the body doesn't see the increased estrogen and is partially fooled, preventing hormone production problems. It's not failsafe, but initial testing indicates at least a partial benefit.
Of course, a lot of this "science" comes from the aromatization-blocker manufacturers (though they weren't the first to come up with it), so take it with a grain of salt.
Let's see now. We can catch doping cheaters by comparing their performance with the performance predicted on the basis of their DNA. That means that if we develop a ranking based on DNA-predicted performance, any deviation of actual performance from that ranking would be evidence that the out-performer had cheated. Seems like the logical conclusion to all this is to simply award the gold to he (or she) who has the best DNA. Perhaps a Blue Ribbon would be more appropriate.
Toot, But on a given day one competitor might have a cold or be distracted by a marital squabble or missed practice due to a cancelled airline flight half way through his journey.
Also, at a given moment on some sport the players might be fairly evenly matched in DNA.
The more problematic part of my proposal is the role of epigenetics. Will epigenetic info cause deviations from DNA sequence predictions that are too large to make DNA sequence predictions of performance useful?
There might be substantial parts of epigenetic state that are pretty stable once a baby is born. If epigenetic info becomes easily testable then those parts might provide the basis for refining the predicted best possible performance.
DNA sequences and epigenetic info will not be the only sources of information for predicting best potential natural performance of an athlete. Body scanning equipment such as CAT scanners will be able to measure a person's internal configuration. Deviations that are not naturally achieveable will be detectable from successive scans.
Your premise is that by extensive genetic and epigenetic analyses it would be possible to derive predictions of performance so certain that it would be valid to accuse someone who exceeds his predicted performance of employing illegal means. You also allow that various external factors might validly degrade performance, i.e., marital squabbles, etc. Suppose Mike and Ike run a race, which Mike is predicted to win because he has superior DNA. However, in the event, Ike actually wins. Faced with these facts we may frame three hypothesis: (1) that Ike used illegal enhancements to improve his performance, (2) that Mike suffered some performance degrading contingency or (3) some combination of (1) and (2). So in the judicial proceedings that would now follow each athletic event Mike firmly denies that he has suffered any performance degrading setback, while Ike firmly denies having used any performance enhancing drugs. Witnesses are called and the trial goes on for weeks or months, until a verdict is finally reached and the prize is awarded. To whom? Who cares anymore?
Just as we wish to discount the effects of performance enhancing drugs, why would we not equally want to discount the effects of performance degrading effects like squabbles or missed flights? After all, it seems absurd to allow such external happenstance to determine who wins the gold medal. Thus, the obvious solution would seem to be to dispense with the race altogether and award the prize to the one having the best predicted performance, based on the best science available. This would avoid the need to risk terrorist attack by gathering in crowded sports venues; the whole event can be carried out by simply submitting blood samples (by certified mail) to the appropriate labs. Of course, this approach does not have the advantage of vastly increasing the market for trial lawyers that seems implicit in your approach.
Toot, You are focusing on the wrong question when you focus on who wins. My suggested approach works better for a race than it does for a tennis game. In a race we do not need to look at who wins. We need to look at the elapsed time and ask whether each player ran faster than their predicted theoretical maximum.
As for drugs versus marital squabbles: Hey, I'm not the one advocating the enforcement of anti-doping rules. I think we should totally abandon such rules. But the public at large has decided (or perhaps the elites who set rules for some - though not all - sports) that athletes shouldn't use drugs to enhance performance.
All I'm arguing is that if sports organizations are going to continue to try to enforce these rules then trying to predict each person's max natural potential using computer models would provide a tool for raising a red flag. Surely there are people who have greatly enhanced their performances in sports way beyond their natural max capacity. Look at those baseball players who are way bulked up.
Granted, a very slight enhancement might be within the range of noise in a model. But those East German female athletes with deep voices were outside of the noise in the difference in their performance due to hormone use. So are a number of prominent baseball players. Computer models that use genetic, epigenetic, and other scanned information will be able to detect much of the cheating, though not all of it.
Okay, I think I see where you're coming from. Certainly there is a great range of belief regarding what kind of measures can ethically be used to enhance athletic performance. At one time Olympic athletes were expected to be amateurs, making their living in a regular job and training only in their spare time. It was only a matter of time until this policy was abused with athletes holding jobs in which all of their time was spare time for training. Similarly, one might carefully study nutritional needs of the body and devise an ideal diet that maximizes performance. It is only a small step to augmenting such a study with molecular biological analyses that identify the enhancing effects of other molecules, such as enzymes and hormones, which seem hardly different from those of nutrition, though they perhaps must be introduced intravenously. To accept such practices is to reduce athletic events to competitions pitting the sports medicine of one nation against those of another; clearly there is something distasteful about it, although just as is the case with war, one might regard such a no-holds-barred contest as showing something about the competing cultures. I cannot claim to have a well thought out position on this matter.
However, with regard to your initial posting, there seems to me to be an inherent logical problem in trying to use a comparison of realized athletic performance with predicted athletic performance as a basis for detecting artificial enhancement or even the effects of psychological stress. The problem is that your method implicitly privileges the predicted performance over the actually realized performance, leading any outcome that differs from the predicted result to be regarded as suspect. If you believe that this is as it should be, I'm simply saying that you might as well carry out the whole competition in the biology lab and computer. I would argue that if actual realized performance is to be the measure of man, then detection of abuse must be done by some other means, such as the blood testing that is currently being attempted.
Having ability and achieving to your abilty are two wholly different things. In Randall's context, average over-achievers will be doomed to a class of cheaters since they were not born with the gifts needed to accomplish the things they do. The movie Gattaca leaps to mind.
Personally, I'd rather have cheaters than be infested with god-like wannabes assigning everyone their scientific level of potential.
Until science understands what purpose every tiny little bit of DNA serves, I say "No Thanks." I dont want people who are so arrogant that they call that which they do not understand "junk", as in junk DNA, to be in charge of anything.
I would like to enquire, is it true that if ten athletes are running a race, the one with the highest red blood corpusles normally wins the race.