Should Performance-Enhancing Drugs Be Banned In Sport Health Research Paper
For an elite athlete winning is the drug of choice. Being the best however is addictive and can lead some to take performance-enhancing drugs. Sport being the business of athletes is defined as ‘conforming to set of
rules for the activity while aiming to achieve excellence,’ with one of the universal ‘rules’ being the prohibition of performance-enhancing drugs, and with good reason. Doping, the colloquial term for athletes taking such drugs, is banned as it creates an uneven playing field. Doping is also quite dangerous to an athlete’s long-term health. Performance-enhancing drugs need to therefore remain banned in sport to keep the playing field level and also for the future health of athletes.
Different performance-enhancing drugs cater for different purposes, as do drugs used medicinally. There are a whole range of different drugs existing for those wanting to improve their performance by increasing muscle mass and strength, increasing delivery of oxygen to tissues, masking pain, stimulating the body, relaxing, reducing weight or even masking the usage of other drugs. Despite some drugs providing the possibility of a higher level of competition, most drugs are banned outright at elite levels unless a legitimate clinical reason exists.
On the surface performance-enhancing drugs simply assist and benefit the physical performance of athletes. By looking deeper it is clear that every drug has its downfall. Amphetamines for example act as a stimulant enabling athletes to stay alert longer, minimise fatigue and maintain aggressiveness. They work by making the heartbeat faster, the lungs breathe faster and the brain think faster. The negative side of this is that while the body is working at a faster rate, it is under a much higher level of stress. As a result, athletes may suffer nervousness, high blood pressure or convulsions. In extreme cases sudden death is also a possibility. Amphetamines overload the body, making it work unnaturally fast, and in some cases it is found the body is simply unable to cope.
Similar dangers exist with athletes taking drugs to increase oxygen flow to tissues. Erythropoietin (EPO) is a popular drug exemplifying this. A naturally occurring protein hormone, EPO is made by the kidneys in low oxygen conditions. It acts by stimulating bone marrow cells to make more red blood cells, effectively increasing the delivery of oxygen to the kidneys. Theoretically EPO sounds beneficial to athletes, particularly endurance athletes, but once again places extra strain on the body. By increasing the production of red-blood cells EPO thickens the blood, forcing the heart to work harder. Use of EPO as a performance-enhancing drug can be linked to an increased likelihood of heart attack or stroke.
Amphetamines and EPO are both a real threat to the legitimacy of athletic competition and the long-term health of the athletes themselves. They are not however very publicly well known. Androgen-anabolic steroids or AAS are by far the most infamous performance-enhancing drug.
Derived from testosterone, steroids are notorious for their muscle building capabilities. They work by enhancing the transcription of specific genes. They act by binding with the androgen receptor within a cell. The complex is then translocated into the nucleus before binding with the DNA. The mRNA is then processed with an increased protein synthesis.
The major anabolic affect of steroids, attractive to strength or power athletes, is an increased muscle fibre area. To achieve such effect however athletes must combine steroid use with strength training. Contrary to popular belief, steroid use on its own has a limited impact.
Androgenic or negative effects of steroids are many. In both sexes jaundice and liver damage is common due to an increased metabolic load. Other side affects include fluid retention and high blood pressure. In males, increased levels of testosterone can act as negative feedback to the pituitary gland, decreasing spermatogenesis, natural testosterone and the luteinizing hormone. Males also experience baldness, gynecomastia and infertility. In females, steroid use can cause growth of facial hair, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, breast atrophy and a thickening of the vocal chords (deepening the voice). Steroids also negatively affect the mental state of both genders and can lead to increased aggression, psychosis or depression. Comparing the anabolic to androgenic effects of steroids, it is surprising that athletes are still prepared to risk their health by taking steroids.
The ends justifying the means, is a possible reason for athletes to take drugs, despite all the ready information on the dangers of drugs. An elite athlete is driven to win by a number of driving forces. A passion for their sport and a competitive spirit may be the initial motivating reason behind competing. Further down the track, the lure of prize money and lucrative sponsorship deals generally play a part. In some cases, the lure of fame and fortune become to strong, or too addictive, and athletes find themselves turning to illegal substances to get over the line.
By investigating just three specific performance-enhancing drugs; amphetamines, EPO and steroids, it is clear that in general they impose dangerous long-term health risks. Drugs in sport however are not simply a biological dilemma. Ethics come into play where some believe that it is an athlete’s prerogative to choose whether or not they take drugs. But is it? As soon as one drug cheat enters the sporting arena all ‘clean’ athletes are immediately disadvantaged. Clean athletes are thus left in the position that they too must take drugs to remain competitive. To keep competition legitimate athletes must therefore take an ‘all for one and one for all’ stance on maintaining anti-doping laws. If the long-term health dangers are not succinct enough to prevent them from taking drugs, the impact it can have on their credibility should be.
Professional sport needs to uphold its anti-doping laws or risk becoming a sad spectacle of simply who can pop the most pills. There are many substitutes to drug taking that athletes can employ to increase their performance. Diet, medicine, technology and coaching, already provide athletes with advantages, without endangering their long-term health. If nations or institutions wish to invest in sports sciences it should be to help athletes reach their individual peak physical condition, rather than push them beyond their natural limitations. Performance-enhancing drugs are dangerous to sport in reference to both health and reputation and therefore must remain banned.