How doping works

By | July 16, 2021

DUE TO THE DEVELOPED DOPING SCANDAL, Russian athletes will be able to take part in the Olympics only under a neutral flag . While others argue whether the reason was a “political conspiracy against Russia” and whether it is humiliating to act in a neutral status, we decided to figure out what doping is, why and how it is used and how it is fought, together with experts: a sports nutritionist, a member of International Association of Sports Sciences (ISSA) Leonid Ostapenko and candidate of medical sciences, general practitioner, cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin.

Why is it banned

The use of doping is unethical – it violates the initial equality of the conditions in which the athletes find themselves. It’s a shame when one achieved endurance solely by training, and the other took a drug that increases the number of red blood cells. On the other hand, inborn qualities and genetic uniqueness also play an important role in professional sports ; and in general, the organism of each person differs from another, and we are not talking about absolutely equal initial conditions. Nevertheless, in an effort to make athletes “clean”, the list of prohibited drugs is constantly expanding – but new ones are replacing them.

Until about the mid-seventies, even steroids were absent from the list of doping – the very “anabolic steroids” that even a child now knows about the harm and illegality of. While Arnold Schwarzenegger’s admission to steroid use early in his bodybuilding career was widely regarded as scandalous, it was legal and completely normal at the time to discuss steroid regimens out loud. Leonid Ostapenko notes that steroids are really an excellent remedy for recovery, because strenuous sports and competitive loads at a certain stage lead to a decrease in the production of sex hormones. Therefore, when these drugs were allowed, they were initially used for post-competition replacement therapy.

But, of course, the obvious positive effect of steroids quickly led to abuse, and already in the eighties, the doses used multiplied the amount produced by the body itself. The risk of side effects has become much higher than the benefit. Steroids were banned – and athletes turned to other hormones, such as growth hormone and insulin; after the prohibition of these substances, others were used, and this process does not see a limit. There is no definite solution yet.

Why is it so difficult to “cleanse” sport of doping

If illegal drugs are used, it is clear that they will try to hide it from doping control. When urine samples were taken at predetermined times, it was relatively simple: the drug was stopped for a certain time before the analysis in order to remove it from the body. Diuretics helped speed up this process – however, they were also banned. The situation cannot be called unambiguous: an athlete may need the same diuretic not to mask illegal drugs, but for other reasons. The so-called medical exceptions are also a different story, because with a certificate from a doctor, some prohibited drugs become permitted. On the other hand, as Yaroslav Ashikhmin explains, the list of exceptions is very limited, and even relatively weak drugs are included in it.

The analytical process itself, detecting doping in urine or blood, is very complex, and even the most advanced methods of mass spectrometry can only find molecules that are already known to exist. Therefore, such a concept as “designer” steroids appeared – these are molecules with a new structure, the mass of which does not coincide with the molecular weight of the already known ones. It is almost impossible to identify such a substance in the blood, because no one is looking for it. But doping control is also improving: now metabolites are detected in the blood, that is, products of processing of the same steroids or other drugs.

How control is improved now

Today WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) uses the so-called biological passports of athletes. Such a passport is an electronic document where the test results are regularly entered. This allows for a long time to track parameters, changes in which may indirectly indicate the use of doping. Now the biological passport consists of two modules: hematological (that is, reflecting the parameters of the blood itself, its cells) and steroid, which records the indicators of the metabolism of steroid hormones. If at some point there are more steroid derivatives, then, most likely, these drugs were injected from the outside. Sampling of blood or urine samples for analysis can be not only planned, but also selective: WADA representatives can “pull out” any athlete and subject him to testing at any time.

According to Yaroslav Ashikhmin, thanks to steroid passports, it has become much easier to identify the use of steroids, so the use of new “designer” molecules has become less. Now the biological passport contains the hematological and steroid parts, but if you wish, you can apply the same principle to many other parameters, regularly conduct blood tests for a huge number of metabolites and register the results in passports. If the task is to make everyone speak as honestly as possible, then we need to continue expanding the lists of prohibited drugs and conduct regular analyzes. At the same time, a “white list” of drugs would greatly simplify life, which can definitely be used in case of illness and to simplify preparation.

Are the rumors around doping true?

Like anything forbidden or balancing on the brink of breaking the law, doping has spawned many rumors. Rumor has it that in children’s sports schools, anabolics are slipped to students under the guise of vitamins, and gymnasts allegedly practice pregnancy before competitions in order to perform at the peak of athletic performance in the first trimester, and then have an abortion. Leonid Ostapenko believes that these rumors are unfounded: “The use of certain substances in children’s schools can be detected by elementary blood tests, and this is the basis for the prosecution of the person who recommended them.” In addition, the earlier a person begins to use doping, the shorter his career becomes: the natural process of the formation of physical qualities is disrupted and any competent coach should understand this.

Rumors about “planned” pregnancies and abortions appeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall: then the “exposure of atrocities” in the GDR began and there was talk that the athletes were subjected to such a “procedure.” It is impossible to confirm or deny the authenticity of these facts, but one thing can be said: the effect of pregnancy is not so predictable and strongly depends on the hormonal profile of a particular woman. In some, in the first trimester of pregnancy, the peak of endurance and strength really comes, while others feel infinitely bad and are not capable of serious activity.

What awaits us in the future

The fight against doping is a complex ethical and philosophical issue. You can bring the list of prohibited drugs to the point of absurdity, but there will always be a “gray area” in the form of drugs that are allowed for medical reasons. If they are banned, then it will turn out that only absolutely healthy people can perform – and this is discrimination. It is possible to designate acceptable upper and lower limits for substances recognized by doping, but this is not always true, because everyone’s metabolism is different. The concentration “allowed” at the time of the competition may not always indicate the absence of doping.

Much also depends on how we generally relate to sports, including at the political level. It is one thing to want competitions to be as “clean” as possible and to encourage the population to physical activity, it is quite another thing if we are talking about increasing the competitive power of countries, like nuclear, only sports. In this case, you can be sure that the use of gene doping is not far off – the “improvement” of the future physical qualities of embryos; then the superpowers will compete with superhumans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *