A new study to be published in the Journal of Physiology suggests that use of steroids for a short period may provide long term benefits over the career of an athlete.
The research was carried out at the University of Oslo on mice. Some of the mice were briefly given testosterone and then at a later date exercised for 6 days. The mice that were briefly exposed to steroids showed an increased ability to rapidly regain the muscle they once had despite the fact that the drug was no longer in use.
The Norwegian scientists found that three months after the drug was withdrawn, the muscles of the mice grew by 30% after six days of exercise. A control group of mice saw growth of just 6% in the same time period.
The use of the steroids leaves a lasting effect of boosting the cell nuclei in the muscle fibres. The Abstract states:
Abstract Previous strength training with or without the use of anabolic steroids facilitates subsequent re-acquisition of muscle mass even after long intervening periods of inactivity. Based on in vivo and ex vivo microscopy we here propose a cellular memory mechanism residing in the muscle cells. Female mice were treated with testosterone propionate for 14 days, inducing a 66% increase in the number of myonuclei and a 77% increase in fibre cross sectional area. Three weeks after removing the drug, fibre size was decreased to the same level as in sham treated animals, but the number of nuclei remained elevated for at least 3 months (>10% of the mouse lifespan). At this time, when the myonuclei-rich muscles were exposed to overload-exercise for 6 days, the fibre cross sectional area increased by 31% while control muscles did not grow significantly. We suggest that the lasting, elevated number of myonuclei constitutes a cellular memory facilitating subsequent muscle overload hypertrophy. Our findings might have consequences for the exclusion time of doping offenders. Since the ability to generate new myonuclei is impaired in the elderly our data also invites speculation that it might be beneficial to perform strength training when young in order to benefit in senescence.
“It is rare to have data that clear cut, I was pretty satisfied with that … In science if you cheat, you are out for life, and my personal view is that it should be similar for athletes,” said Prof Kristian Gundersen.
This research together with previous research carried out in Sweden may provide the impetus for cycling and anti-doping administrators to increase bans or consider lifetime bans for the use of steroids by riders.
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