When it comes to the topic of pills and muscle growth, many automatically think "anabolic steroids" due to the continuous controversy surrounding performance-enhancing drugs in the sports world. However, in addition to illegal steroids being sold on the black market, there are also numerous over-the-counter supplements available in stores, gyms and on the Internet. According to the Mayo Clinic, health risks are associated with taking performance-enhancing drugs as well as some bodybuilding supplements, such as creatine. Consumers should take the time to understand both the risks and potential benefits before taking pills to develop larger muscles.
One class of drugs athletes may use to increase muscle size is anabolic-androgenic steroids, which are often synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone. Methyltestosterone, Oxymetholone and Oxandrolone are three of the more common steroids available in pill form, but may also be taken by injection or by applying a topical treatment. A second class of steroids known as "designer" drugs, because of their ability to go undetected by current day drug tests, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and are considered to be more dangerous. These synthetically manufactured performance-enhancing drugs are created specifically for and marketed to athletes who may be subject to random drug testing.
Pills marketed for building muscle also come in over-the-counter supplement form. The Mayo Clinic suggests that creatine is one of the most popular supplements used by athletes trying to increase strength, performance and size. Bodybuilding.com provides readers with an extensive list of available supplements that can be taken to make muscles grow, rebuild and recover quicker (see "Resources"). In addition to the much touted creatine, the website recommends natural testosterone boosters, which contain ingredients like zinc monomethionine aspartate (ZMA) believed to enhance the body's natural testosterone levels. Methoxyisoflavone and Ecdysterone, otherwise known as anabolic flavones, also make the list, which product manufacturers claim naturally increase protein synthesis and muscle growth.
Most sports organizations prohibit their athletes from taking anabolic-androgenic steroids for performance enhancement or muscle strength and development, which is why there is mandatory drug testing in these organizations. Steroids also are illegal in the United States and therefore can only be obtained through the black market. These substances are not subject to U.S. government safety standards and therefore pose the risk of containing impurities. Natural body-building supplements have also undergone government scrutiny. The FDA issued an advisory in 2009 regarding synthetic steroid substances marketed as dietary supplements, which the agency warns are unapproved and actually misbranded drugs. Products that are marketed as being "anabolic" or are said to be similar to testerone are on the FDA's warning list. Some of the brand names include Mass Xtreme, ESTRO Xtreme, HMG Xtreme and TT-40-Xtreme.
In our fast paced, "have-to-have-it-now" society, the benefits of a pill offering quick muscle gain and improved athletic performance may obviously be enticing. The question must be, at what cost to your health does winning or being the best in your sport come? Unfortunately, although the short-term benefits may be obvious and rewarding, health experts at the Mayo Clinic warn consumers that the long-term effects of performance-enhancing drugs haven't been rigorously studied.
The FDA warns users of supplements, which are labled to contain steroids or steroid alternatives, that health risks may include serious liver damage, kidney failure, stroke and pulmonary embolism. The agency also warns that use of anabolic steroids may pose other long-term risks including shrinkage of testes and infertility in males, enlarged breasts in males, enhanced masculine traits in women and increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Supplements are considered food and not drugs by the FDA. This means supplement manufacturers are not required to conform to the same production safety standards as drug manufacturers do. It is common to find supplements that have been diluted or contaminated with other substances, which may inadvertently lead to a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Side effects of taking the supplement creatine include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, weight gain and weight gain, according to the Mayo Clinic.