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July 11, 2004

Creatine: Legal But Risky

FROM THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER comes a sobering article dissecting the latest on the use among high school athletes of the substance creatine, and other legal (but risky nonetheless) performance enhancers.

For an alarming number of athletes, the pressures of winning—and often to secure college scholarships—is so great that they have sought ought performance boosters in increasing numbers.

A University of Michigan study has found that 3.5% of high school senior respondents have used steroids at least once, up from 2.1% in 1991. Another study by the Blue Cross Association found an estimated 1 million young people ages 12-17 have taken performance-enhancing sports supplements.

These are high school athletes. It’s scary to think about usage among college athletes.

Creatine appears to have become the performance-enhancing supplement of choice among high schoolers. A starter drug, if you will. Like marijuana supposedly being the gateway to hard drugs, or beer being the gateway to hard liquor.

Sounding like it belongs in a Superman comic book alongside kryptonite and Kalel, the sports supplement creatine has been shown to improve performance during high-intensity exercise of short duration.

Creatine is most frequently used among football, wrestling, hockey, weightlifting and track athletes.

However, there are risks associated with creatine: dehydration, diarrhea, stomach cramps and muscle and ligament tears.

Meanwhile, creatine is easily accessible. It can be bought online, via muscle magazines or at the local vitamin store. According to usgyms.net, creatine sales have grown by 730% over the past ten years.

Dr. Ted Lambrinides, an authority on dietary supplements and a member of the NCAA speakers’ bureau, pointed out another problem related to creatine use, “One problem is that about 25% of all these supplements are contaminated, laced with other substances that aren't on the label.”

What you see might not be what you get.

The following recaps the sources, side-effects and banning information of the more popular supplements and performance-enhancing drugs:

• An extract of the Chinese plant ma huang that stimulates cardiovascular and central nervous systems.
• Potential risks: Can cause elevated blood pressure. When taken in excessive doses or by people with certain medical conditions, can result in cardiac arrhythmia, heart attacks, seizures or strokes.
• Banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is now illegal to use or sell in the US.

• A natural compound created from amino acids.
• Risks: dehydration, diarrhea, stomach cramps and muscle and ligament tears.
• Not banned by any governing bodies.

• A steroid precursor that stimulates the body's production of testosterone.
• Potential risks include breast enlargement and testicular atrophy in men; breast shrinkage and deepened voice in women; growth retardation in teens.
• Banned by: NBA, NFL, NCAA, World Anti-Doping Agency. In March 2004, the FDA warned 23 companies to stop marketing andro.

• An extract taken from orange peel and used as a substitute for ephedra. Sometimes called bitter orange.
• Risks include pharmacological and toxic properties similar to ephedra; could cause an athlete to test positive for ephedra.
• Banned by: NCAA.

• Chemically produced enhancer of hGH (a substance made by the pituitary gland for growth and cell repair) used by those seeking to build strength.
• Potential risks include elevated hGH levels, which can damage heart and liver and promote growth of jaw, forehead, hands and feet. Also might cause diabetes.
• Banned by: NFL, NCAA and WADA.

• Stimulant and mild diuretic causes a feeling of heightened alertness.
• Potential risks include mild addictions. When used in large quantities can cause cardiac arrhythmia.
• Banned by: NCAA, WADA (in amounts roughly equivalent to consuming eight cups of coffee in a two-hour time frame).

The take-away here? If one is blessed with a great body, eats well, rests sufficiently and trains hard, then they may—or may not—beat the competition; but they will have a much greater chance of living a long and pain-minimal life.

And if you gotta drink coffee, then keep it under eight cups within a two hour period.

(this 667 word excerpt—with associated commentary--was distilled from a 2450 word article in the Cincinnati Enquirer of 7-4-04)