Sunday 27 October 2013

Jodie Marsh, steroids and bodybuilding

The interview I did with Jodie Marsh – glamour model, turned reality TV star turned natural bodybuilder  – has finally turned up on TV. I am not sure how easy it is to find, but the TV channel is TLC. Here's the link to the program details: Apparently TLC repeat their shows all the time so if you can access this channel you still might be able to catch it.

I don’t know how the show has been edited, but the director spent most of the interview trying to persuade Jodie to get me to say how dangerous steroids were to health (clearly the “angle” they were taking as she doesn’t take steroids herself). I stuck to the scientific line – the sex side effects (e.g. cliteromegaly for women and gynaecomastia for men) are, at least in part, somewhat manageable by careful regimens and taking additional drugs (e.g. tamoxifen). But the long-term adverse effects are much less easy to control, and potentially far more serious. These include adverse cardiovascular effects and liver cancer [1-3], and for women the sexual side effects may not be readily reversible. The problem is that, perhaps for obvious reasons, it is difficult to get the information to present careful long term follow up studies at the high doses of anabolic steroids bodybuilders use. So we don’t have good data, though what we have certainly does not suggest a sound safety profile.

Actually, bizarre as it was to be discussing enlarged clitorises and man-boobs with Jodie Marsh, she was a charming intelligent woman and much more interested in getting at the scientific truth than her director. The only pain in the interview was that the cameraman thought it was a good idea to have us standing together for the whole one hour pre-record. Normally given the size difference (see attached photo), I would have expected to be perched on a table so we could take face-to-face. Instead I loomed over and cricked my back. Still all for the sake of entertainment!


1. Hardt, A., Stippel, D., Odenthal, M., Holscher, A. H., Dienes, H. P., and Drebber, U. (2012)Development of hepatocellular carcinoma associated with anabolic androgenic steroid abuse in a young bodybuilder: a case report, Case Reports in Pathology 2012, 195607.

2.  Socas, L., Zumbado, M., Perez-Luzardo, O., Ramos, A., Perez, C., Hernandez, J. R., and Boada, L. D. (2005) Hepatocellular adenomas associated with anabolic androgenic steroid abuse in bodybuilders: a report of two cases and a review of the literature, British Journal of Sports Medicine 39, e27.

3. Angell, P., Chester, N., Green, D., Somauroo, J., Whyte, G., and George, K. (2012) Anabolic steroids and cardiovascular risk, Sports Med. 42, 119-134.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Eighteen Colchester soldiers banned for doping using ephedrine: what a waste

Today eighteen soldiers from my university’s local town, Colchester in Essex, have been suspended for taking ephedrine [1]. This is a drug that is banned in sport. Outside the sporting world it is also one of those “supplements” where there is an ongoing concern about its toxicity. I certainly wouldn’t take it, either for performance enhancement or, as it seems these soldiers have, for weight loss. Notwithstanding the health concerns, the evidence that ephedrine is genuinely performance enhancing or can reduce weight in the long term is rather weak [2].

Weight loss products are an accident waiting to happen for many people. Aside from the ephedra story, I am reminded of the death of a young boy from my old school in Hampton who took the pesticide dinitrophenol  (DNP) to improve his appearance [3]. DNP is a drug occasionally abused by bodybuilders.  However, even they are extremely wary of it, for its effective dose is just slightly less than the lowest dose that kills you. This drug makes you lose fat by stopping fat - or indeed any other foodstuff – giving you energy. It is so toxic that it was banned as a diet pill as long ago as the 1940s.

I talk about ephedrine and DNP in my book. But the book is written for the interested layperson. It sells well, but it is hardly a best seller. But people need to be aware of the information in it. This morning is one of those sad times when I feel I need to do much more to explain the science behind so-called ergogenic supplements.

[1]        Colchester Gazette, October 16, 2013  “18 soldiers suspended by Army after testing positive for performance enhancing drug ephedrine” 

[2]       Shekelle, P. G., Hardy, M. L., Morton, S. C., Maglione, M., Mojica, W. A., Suttorp, M. J., Rhodes, S. L., Jungvig, L., and Gagne, J. (2003) Efficacy and safety of ephedra and ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance: a meta-analysis, JAMA 289, 1537-1545.  

[3]        BBC News, Sept 17, 2013 Chris Mapletoft parents 'shocked' over diet pills death.  

Sunday 13 October 2013

Chinese athletes visit Essex: Chen Yibing and Yang Yang

This is not a post about drugs in sport, but instead another visit to my university by elite athletes. Chen Yibing, the king of the rings, and Yang Yang, a short track speed skater, visited our Human Performance Unit last Monday. It was great to see them. Yibing was most interested in our biomechanics set-up, whereas Yang was treated to a video and discussion about my latest speed skating research with the UK team. If you want to find out more about this you can click here. I gave them both copies of my book and they both kindly agreed to sign a copy. I now have copies signed by Alistair Cook, Roger Black, Laura Trott, Chen Yibing and Yang Yang - not a bad collection!

On Tuesday evening Chen Yibing and Yang Yang gave a talk at the University. You can see photos of this by clicking here. They, especially Yibing, are real celebrities in China so it was interesting to be at a lecture where over 90% of the audience was Chinese. This meant 90% of the laughter at their jokes came after the Chinese version. The smaller non-Chinese speaking contingent had to wait for the English translation and try and make enough noise between us to make up our lack of numbers.

As usual with elite athletes their stories were inspirational.  One thing I did note about Yibing’s story was that, whilst we might labour under the assumption that talent spotting in China is more scientific than here in the UK, in fact he was recognised in much the same way as would happen in this country, by performing in local gyms, winning competitions and hence coming to the attention of the national squad. Then of course the hard work really began.

I would like to end this blog by giving you a link to his gold-medal performance in the Beijing Olympics on the rings. Click here for this. You don't normally associate this discipline with beauty rather than strength. However, I think you will agree this is as beautiful as any gymnastic performance on the floor, pommel horse, beam or asymmetric bars.

P.S.  I got very excited at first when I realised that Yang Yang was coming. This is the name of a speed skater who is both an IOC member and a committee member of the World Anti Doping Agency. However, this is a different speed skater (who competed at the same time and shares the same name). Still my Yang Yang was also great to talk to!