The percentage. Naturally secreted by the pituitary gland,

 The world of competitive sport is continently changing, withprofessional athletes and scientists going to great lengths to try and find newways of boosting athletic performance, both legal and illegal.

Even thoughthere is a lot of haze around the true potential of many of these ‘Wonder Pills’and methods of doping, some are more effective than others while also havingsolid scientific ground to stand on. Human growth hormone, abbreviated to hGH, is one the most widely usedillegal supplements by professionals and one can see why: on the tin itpromises to increase lean muscle mass while improving endurance and reducingbody fat percentage. Naturally secreted by the pituitary gland, hGH is crucialin our early years and adolescence to stimulate the rapid skeletal and musclegrowth we need; hence it is no surprise why scientists have taken advantage ofit. From the base of the brain, hGH travels to the liver where it stimulatesproduction of ‘growth factor 1’ or IGF-1, an insulin-like protein which plays akey role in organ and muscle growth. Further, hGH is also taken for recoverypurposes, for it is advertised that it improves injury recovery times, a factorwhich is crucial to some athletes. For example, a study in BONE found that IGF-1 stimulated the skeletal metabolism andrevealed that it “speeds up fracture healing significantly”. While Hormone Research published a studyconducted to investigate hGH’s ‘fat burning’ capabilities and found that”growth hormone treatment caused a 1.6-fold increase in weight loss”.

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                                                                                                     Yet,multiple studies have found that hGH has very little effect on importantathletic factors. In 2010 Meinhardt et al. found that putting 96 recreationalathletes on a course of hGH for 8 weeks resulted in “VO2 max,strength, power unchanged” only an “improved aerobic capacity”. So, it seemsthat only some of hGH’s flagship headlines are backed up and unfortunatelythere are side effects.

Enlargement of the digits, internal organs and lengtheningof the jaw and subsequently conditions such as cardiomegaly and ‘elephantepidermis’, have all been strongly correlated with hGH abuse, highlighting thesignificant risks. In recent years there have been significant advances in genemodification and therapy and it is a logical leap to integrate this into theworld of sport science. Now days we are more and more capable in identifying whichlengths of DNA code for performance enhancing proteins for example IGF-1 or EPO(erythropoietin) or which repressors or transcription factors might boost theirproduction. However, there have been a range of different mechanisms forachieving this, both theorised and tested.                                                                                                                                                            Themost obvious is to use a vector in the form of a virus or bacteria that carriesa specific gene and will be able to get it into our system that way. Using avirus as a vector had been trial by the University of Chicago’s medical schoolwhere they implanted RNA that coded for EPO, a hormone that stimulates redblood cell production.

It is thought that the virus would spread and reversetranscript the gene into more target cells hence stimulating unnatural levelsof RBC production which would of course benefit performance; with more RBCs inyour blood that would raise your blood O2 levels, increasing your VO2max, endurance. Using bacteria and one of their plasmids is a more testedmethod, having been used successfully for other genes in the past. Having usedrestriction and ligase enzymes to implant the relevant DNA, for instance IGF-1,into the plasmid they are then extracted and injected into the major musclegroups. Then ultrasound or electric shock treatment stimulates the muscle cellsto take up the plasmids and start the production of the protein. Even thoughthere is no hard evidence that this doping method has been used by professionalathletes, it still remains a possibility and an ever growing one in the future.There is the possibility of surgery in which a sample of cells from each ofone’s major muscle groups is taken, and their DNA is modified to contain ahigher number of lengths that code for specific proteins and then the DNA willbe transduced from there.

However, this is unpopular due to the recovery timeneeded after the invasive procedures What is a reality at the moment isingestion of synthetic or recombinant EPO which has been made or grown in alaboratory with chemical caps and tails to make it very hard to breakdown, soit can remain intact during digestion and be transported to the targeted cellsvia the circulatory system. The risks, though, come in the form of targeting the right cells. It isvery difficult to ‘direct’ these genes within the body meaning an athlete mightend up with growth protein in his eye, for example. Also, there is always therisk of unwanted mutation or incorrect gene implantation can lead to cancerouscell division. Perhaps the most long-standing approach toperformance enhancement is dietary.

 Glycogen is a fuel present only in small amounts in skeletal muscles andcan be rapidly depleted during prolonged intense aerobic exercise, thus causingfatigue.                                                                                              To counter-act this, carbohydrateloading the day or night prior to a long endurance will build up glycogenstores. The cells in your body run on glucose because during digestion, glucosemoves into the bloodstream, which carries it to your cells. Carbo-loadingtherefore provides extra energy to muscles, maintains high levels ofcarbohydrate oxidation, prevents hypoglycaemia and provides athletes with theenergy necessary to sustain an increased level of physical activity for alonger duration. For example, an athlete can store 1,800 to 2,000 calories offuel as glycogen in the muscles and liver. This energy can fuel about 90 to 120minutes of vigorous activity. More recent evidence suggests that in eventslasting longer than 90 minutes, maximized glycogen stores can improve arunner’s finish time by 2 to 3 percent.

This could translate to a 5- to7-minute improvement for a 4-hour marathoner.                                                                                                                                                                              Whilst the benefits ofadapted diet are certain and legal, there are unwanted side-effects. Acarbohydrate-loading diet can cause some discomfort or side effects, such asweight gain largely from water retention, digestive discomfort and blood sugarchanges. A misleadingly ‘natural’ option open tocompetitive athletes is blood doping which increases the amount of haemoglobinin the bloodstream. On the face of it, the process of enhancing performance bymaximising one of the body’s own biological processes seems both logical andsensible. Increasing the red blood cell count (and so increasing thehaematocrit) in turn increases the volumes of the protein haemoglobin whichbinds to and carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, enabling the athletefaster and more sustained aerobic respiration, thereby preventing the musclesentering an anaerobic state and the negative consequences of lactic acidbuild-up. Three well-known processes are commonly in use, particularly byendurance athletes such as distance runners, skiers and cyclists.                                                                                                                                                                   Mostly simply,athletes can take a blood transfusion of their own (autologous) or someoneelses’ (homologous) blood, directly raising their red blood cell count andhaemoglobin levels.

Alternatively, they can achieve the same effect indirectly,by taking injections of the hormone EPO – a hormone naturally produced by the kidney to stimulate red blood cellproduction.  Lastly, athletes may takesynthetic oxygen carriers such a HBOCs (hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers) orPFCs (perfluorocarbons), increasing oxygen in the blood to fuel sustainedaerobic respiration in muscles.  For allits seemingly logical and harmless biological basis, blood ‘doping’ as the namesuggest is illicit – and for good medical reason. Despite the ethicallyinappropriate and proven performance advantage it gives, there are significantrisks and side-effects. Blood doping causes the blood to thicken as aconsequence of a higher red blood cell count, forcing the heart to work harderthan normal to pump blood throughout the body. As a result, blood doping raisesthe risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), pulmonary embolism (ablockage, which can be fat, air or a blood clot, of the pulmonary artery),cerebral embolism (a blockage, formed elsewhere in the body, which becomeslodged in an artery within or leading to the brain) and cerebrovascularaccident (stroke). Additionally, blood transfusion methods carry risk ofblood-borne diseases (hepatitis C, B and HIV) and allergic reaction.

 One way in which athletes can get around theillicit nature of blood doping and its associated risks, is to achieve the samegoal of improving oxygen delivery to the muscles through the legal method ofaltitude training. Theoretically, this enables a competitive performanceadvantage when returning to sea level, although research has not yetconclusively shown which approach is best: – whether there is a better outcomefrom ‘live high – train low’, where athletes sleep in hypoxia and train at sealevel, or variations of this, namely ‘live high; train high’ or live low –train high’.                                 Whatever the choice, the biology behindit is the same: acclimatising to low oxygen levels at higher altitudestimulates blood and circulation changes to heighten and sustain aerobicrespiration in muscles:  Within hours todays, blood plasma volume decreases thus increasing haemoglobin concentrationand, in turn, the oxygen content in the arteries.

Within 7–10 days, red cellsgain mass owing to an increased production of erythropoietin (EPO) andreticulocytes. There are also more subtle changes, with an increase in thenumber of small blood vessels supplying muscles, in the ability of the musclesto ‘cope’ with lactic acid waste build-up and in the microscopic structure andfunction of the muscles themselves.                                                                                                                      Despite the legality of this methodof performance enhancement, athletes face a number of negative side-effects. Aswith Blood Doping, having too many blood cells makes the blood thicker and theflow sluggish, resulting in the heart having to work harder, putting athletesat risk of cardiovascular illnesses. Furthermore, thicker blood may reachmuscle tissue less effectively, thus denying the muscle the intended rise inoxygen. More worryingly, at very high altitudes (>5000m), athletes cansuffer weight loss, weakened immunity, inhibition of muscle repair processesand excessive work of breathing. Additionally, there is the problem of altitudeillnesses, which can dramatically reduce the capacity to be active at altitude,or foreshorten the exposure to high altitude altogether. However, the most popular and widely used doping products are anabolicsteroids.

First synthesised in the 1930’s, anabolic steroids or anabolic–androgenicsteroids (AAS) are androgens including synthetic and natural hormones such astestosterone. These are widely used among the bodybuilding and athleticcommunities but are illegal for professionals in competitive environments.Anabolic steroids are used to accelerated growth in muscle tissue, bone growthand red blood cell. production. The range of hormones stimulates the synthesisof certain proteins involved in mitosis and tissue manufacture but also affectthe enzymes involved in protein metabolism thus slowing the rate of reactionand inhibiting protein degradation, which is known as an anticatabolic effect. Further,the hormone responsible for muscle catabolism, cortisol, finds it moredifficult to act when anabolic steroids are being used, since the drugs containinhibitors that block cortisol receptors. However, there are many health risksand warnings associated with steroid use and abuse, and many of them onlyappear after you stop taking the drug/s. Excessive use, or moderate use over along period of time can irreparably damage levels of natural testosteronemeaning when the drug is stopped being taken.

Having low levels of testosteronemakes effects of cortisol much starker, leading to rapid muscle dystrophy, nowstrength and size of the athlete’s muscles are severely decreased. Thepsychological state of the user is also compromised, as the drugs can often beaddictive leading to a dependency that is not only unhealthy but expensive.Finally, a side effect of cortisol acting on muscle is that it temporarilysuppresses the immune system meaning users are very prone to colds, flus andear, nose and throat infections. We can conclude therefore that anabolicsteroids have one the greatest extremes of ‘on’ and ‘off’; one making you inunnaturally peak physical form opposed with a retirement from sport of rapidcatabolism and illness. 

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