1. Steroids And Your Adrenal Glands
Your adrenal glands are an important component of your endocrine (hormone) system that produce the adrenaline and noradrenalin you need to get bursts of energy during heavy lifting sessions. Your adrenal glands also produce cortisol - an often vilified hormone that's released in response to exercise induced inflammation.
Because cortisol has a reputation as a muscle destroying hormone, bodybuilders often take steps to limit its release and action. Generally, suppressing cortisol is beneficial and results in greater muscle growth. However, some bodybuilders use anabolic steroids to take fighting cortisol to the next level. New research shows that this may be dangerous.
| Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic steroids, also known as anabolic-androgenic steroids or AAS, are a class of steroid hormones related to the hormone testosterone. They increase protein synthesis within cells, which results in the buildup of cellular tissue (anabolism), especially in muscles.
While cortisol can destroy muscle in some cases, it's also necessary for good health. New research examining the effects of anabolic steroids on cortisol secretion had 10 healthy young male volunteers injected with an anabolic steroid drug, and measured pre and post injection cortisol secretions for several days following injection.
Researchers found that 90% of test subjects developed "adrenal insufficiency" - also known as hypocortisolism - a condition whereby cortisol levels are lower than needed for good health because the adrenal glands are unable to produce adequate amounts of cortisol in response to stress.
After measuring cortisol levels two weeks post-injection and finding abnormally low cortisol levels in the injected subjects, researchers concluded that cortisol suppression occurred in a dose-dependant manner. In other words, the greater the anabolic steroid injection dose, the greater the suppression of cortisol production and release.
This is an important study for bodybuilders because while cortisol management is important, it's important to note that some cortisol is needed to control and eliminate inflammation levels in the body. And, while eliminating excessive cortisol production is a worthy goal, it's critical for health and recovery that normal cortisol production remains undisturbed.
Given that specific anabolic steroids increase the risk for adrenal insufficiency and appear to exert long-term baseline cortisol suppression effects, it's especially important that anabolic steroid use be supervised by a competent and experience medical doctor.
- Duclos, M., M. Guinot, M. Colsy, F. Merle, C. Baudot, J. B. Corcuff, And Y. Lebouc. High Risk of Adrenal Insufficiency after a Single Articular Steroid Injection in Athletes. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 39, No. 7, pp. 1036-1043, 2007.
2. Healthy Bones
Bodybuilders work hard, but skeletal muscles aren't the only thing subjected to stress - the bones to which muscles are connected are also subjected to enormous forces and stress loads and undergo changes as a response to training stresses.
A recent study examined the bone health of 152,095 Finnish army conscripts over the course of 102,515 person-years to assess the risk of bone-stress injuries in the hips, pelvis, thigh and knee. Naturally, these conscripts undergo or have undergone extensive physical training and are therefore subjected to training-induced stresses.
To assess the risks of bone-stress injuries, researchers subjected participants to extensive MRI testing and measured body composition and physical fitness.
After collecting and analyzing the data, researchers found that the risk of injuries for females was significantly higher than for their male counterparts. Tests indicated that injuries of the sacrum were most common for females and that bone-stress injury in females was due primarily to poor muscle strength and poor performance on a timed 12 minute run.
| The Sacrum
The sacrum is a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity, where it is inserted like a wedge between the two hip bones. Its upper part connects with the last lumbar vertebra, and bottom part with the coccyx (tailbone).
While not bodybuilders, this study is applicable to bodybuilders because it highlights several key points. First, bodybuilders of both sexes are at risk for developing short-term or chronic training-related bone stress injuries as a result of repeatedly subjecting the skeletal system to enormous training stresses.
Secondly, the study shows that poor muscle strength is a risk factor for bone injury. To prevent injury, it's important that bodybuilders strengthen develop even strength of both major and ancillary muscles - major muscle groups and smaller muscle groups that support larger muscles.
Finally, the researchers identify female gender as a risk factor for bone-stress injury. This highlights the fact that females undergoing repeated stress have unique concerns not faced by their male counterparts. As a result, females need to identify their unique concerns (i.e. higher rate of sacrum injuries) and develop appropriate risk-prevention strategies to stay healthy.
Make no mistake: training subjects your bones to injury risk and taking steps to prevent these risks from turning into real injuries is critical. Supplementation and a focused and appropriate training approach that identifies and remedies any weaknesses is the best approach to prevent injury and stay healthy.
- Mattila, V. M., M. Niva, M. Kiuru, and H. PihlajamaÃ‚Â¨ Ki. Risk Factors for Bone Stress Injuries: A Follow-up Study of 102,515 Person-Years. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 39, No. 7, pp. 1061-1066, 2007.
3. Ibuprofen During Exercise
It's just a fact: training can hurt, and you're going to experience pain at some point if you train seriously. Many bodybuilders use ibuprofen to combat pain and exercise-induced inflammation and while it is effective when used temporarily, past research shows that ibuprofen has serious health concerns and significantly inhibits protein synthesis - the conversion of proteins into new muscle tissue. Nevertheless, bodybuilders continue to use ibuprofen for pain management and inflammation control.
New research aimed to examine the effects of ibuprofen administration on training-induced oxidative stress.
Researchers at Appalachian State University and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine had 54 ultramarathon subjects divided into two groups. Group one (n=29) was administered either 600mg or 1200mg of ibuprofen one day prior to race day and on the day of the race. Group two (n=25) did not use ibuprofen in any amounts and served as the control group.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that ibuprofen significantly decreased exercise induced oxidation and markers of inflammation.
This study is important for bodybuilders because while ibuprofen has serious side-effects associated with long-term use, short-term use can dramatically reduce inflammation and markers of stress like training-induced oxidation that can damage joints, muscle tissue and DNA.
However, and despite this research, ibuprofen should continue to be used only on a short-term basis and in the most extreme of cases when inflammatory control steps like systemic enzyme supplementation and oxidant control steps like antioxidant supplementation aren't enough to stem the tide of inflammation and exercise-induced oxidative damage.
- Mcanulty, S. R., J. T. Owens, L. S. Mcanulty, D. C. Nieman, J. D. Morrow, C. L. Dumke, and G. L. Milne. Ibuprofen Use during Extreme Exercise: Effects on Oxidative Stress and PGE2. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 39, No. 7, pp. 1075-1079, 2007.
4. Hawthorne Berry For Blood Pressure
Hawthorne berry has traditionally been used to support heart health and promote a healthy cardiovascular system. Hawthorne berry has also been noted to eliminate excess water retention. It's not surprising, then, that Hawthorne berry has been extensively used by advanced competitive bodybuilders looking to maintain cardiovascular health and to dial it in on competition day.
A double-blind study conducted by UK researchers wanted to examine the effects of hawthorne berry supplementation on 36 patients with mildly high blood pressure. To this end, researchers split participants into three groups: a control group receiving a placebo, a group receiving a combination of Hawthorne berry and magnesium and a third group receiving a stand-alone hawthorne berry supplement. Subject were tested for blood pressure prior to and immediately following the study and also had their diets examined.
While all groups showed a decline in blood pressure values, the stand-alone Hawthorne berry group showed the greatest reduction in systolic and diastolic pressure at rest than the other groups.
Although the subjects were not bodybuilders, this is an important study because bodybuilders frequently suffer from elevated blood pressure values due to training stresses combined with work demands. The risks for elevated blood pressure may increase depending on supplement or anabolic steroid use.
Needless to say, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular system is important because the cardiovascular system delivers mineral-rich, oxygenated blood to hard working muscles and maintains organ health and function.
By keeping blood pressure within healthy and acceptable limits, bodybuilders can keep their cardiovascular system in working order, keep the nutrient rich blood flowing to muscle tissue and maximize results.
- University of Reading, Whiteknights, U.K., 2006.
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