Doping: And isn't he willing

Table of contents:

Doping: And isn't he willing
Doping: And isn't he willing

And if he is not willing…

"May the best win!" - This noble aim of the sport seems to apply only to a limited extent. Because, as the recent doping scandals once again revealed, more and more athletes are resorting to illegal means to improve their performance a little. And the doping kitchen has plenty to offer. Always faster, better, longer: high-performance sports do not allow even the smallest drop in fitness or even a drop in performance. The pressure on the athletes is huge. Some people are tempted to help out with illegal means. Doping can therefore already look back on a long, dubious career: In 1960, the Danish cyclist Knut Jenssen died at the Olympic Games in Rome. He fell during the team time trial and then died in hospital. Doping with amphetamines was only later announced as a reason.

This year's Tour de France winner Floyd Landis and sprinter Justin Gatlin, Olympic gold medalist, world champion and world record holder in the 100 meters seem to be the youngest of the sorcerers' apprentices. Both were found to have unusually high levels of testosterone/epitestosterone. At Landis, the so-called B-test is still pending. The two top athletes will certainly pay if they are finally confirmed - but the witches' kitchen continues to simmer. First to the ingredients:

The classics: anabolic steroids

Still widespread: Anabolic steroids such as the male sex hormone testosterone and its derivatives promote protein synthesis in the muscle cells as the most important effect for athletes. They are therefore considered to be a guarantee for a rapid increase in athletic performance, especially in high-speed sports such as cycling or sprinting. Testosterone also probably shortens the body's recovery time after high performance and increases aggressiveness - a great advantage in competition. The range of anabolic steroids for competitive and recreational athletes is correspondingly huge.

In the case of doping with testosterone, the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in the urine is the first indicator of external intake. Epitestosterone is also formed in the body but has no biological effect. If the concentration quotient of the two substances, which is normally relatively constant at 1, rises to values above 4, there is a suspicion of doping. Further investigations will then follow. Isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) allows the unequivocal determination that a physiological substance has not been formed in one's own body. The ratio of the naturally occurring stable, non-radioactive carbon isotopes C-12 and C-13 in each carbon compound is precisely determined. Due to natural selection processes, this ratio varies depending on the origin. In the case of cyclist Landis, the synthetic origin of the testosterone in question has now been proven.

Poor prospects - not only for Landis and Gatlin, but also for the opinion, often overused in the media, that doping analysis is hopelessly lagging behind the supposedly ongoing development of new doping agents. So far, doping substances have always been medicinal products with a serious application profile in medicine, which are misused for doping. If such a new preparation appears as an initially unknown signal, it can be quickly identified and, if it is related to banned doping substances, immediately included in the ban. The possible advance is now short-lived.

A la Nature: Blood Doping

Sweating in the mountains is allowed: altitude training leads to an increased proportion of red blood cells, the erythrocytes, in the blood for several weeks afterwards. The oxygen can be absorbed and converted more effectively - endurance increases. But then it becomes illegal: On the one hand, doping is the supply of one's own or someone else's blood shortly before the competition, on the other hand, the administration of erythropoietin (EPO) to supplement or replace this effect. The hormone is actually produced in the kidneys and stimulates the formation of red blood cells in the stem cells of the bone marrow.

Genetically engineered erythropoietin has been analytically distinguishable from the natural hormone since the year 2000. If there is a suspicion of doping, however, it is usually only measured indirectly: the determination of the haemocrit value, i.e. the proportion of red blood cells, and other blood parameters do not lead to clear evidence of the substance. A statement can be made by comparing reference values, whereby physiological fluctuations in the values can also lead to a positive test result or vice versa.

Exogenous erythropoietin can be directly detected in the urine via isoelectric focusing (IEF) and subsequent immunoblotting. Synthetic and endogenous hormones differ, among other things, in the presence and absence of recurring sugar units. Limits lie in the complex and difficult sample processing.

Many athletes dope because they want to compensate for a disadvantage

(Frank Schönborn) "Classic" blood doping, the supply of one's own or someone else's blood, has been practiced for a long time. It went somewhat out of fashion with the successful synthesis of erythropoietin; however, since the synthetic variant has been proven, it has enjoyed increasing popularity again. The supply of the body's own erythrocytes is hardly detectable to this day, foreign blood can now be detected. A real indication of autologous blood doping would be suspicious blood supplies that can be clearly assigned to an athlete via genetic tests.

Already History: Amphetamines

The "Panzer-Schokolade" and "Pepp-Pille" developed under the NS government already coaxed the German soldiers of the Second World War to be more aggressive and less afraid of death - even before their active ingredient amphetamine was used as a doping agent in sport used. Despite its known addictiveness and overdose deaths, such as that of the aforementioned cyclist Jenssen, it was not until the 1960s that steroids slowly replaced it in sport.

Amphetamines no longer play a significant role in high-performance sports. Nevertheless, they are still there: disguised as the fashionable drug "speed" or as the basic substance for "ecstasy", they are still considered one of the most dangerous drugs due to the rapid dependence and fatal side effects.

No longer a dream of the future: gene doping

In just five to ten years, according to expert opinion, gene therapy will be the number one doping agent - and the dangerous side effects can hardly be estimated yet. Geoffrey Goldspink and his colleagues at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London discovered something called mechanical growth factor (MDF), a peptide hormone released in muscles when you exercise. When they injected it into the muscle tissue of mice, they measured a 25 percent increase in tissue growth within two weeks.

Scientists are currently working on gene therapy for old and sick people who are too weak to train. Despite the well-known risk of cancer when using growth factors, it is easy to imagine how competitive sport will deal with results that are ready for application.

A previously theoretical approach in humans involves switching off the protein myostatin, which occurs in muscle cells. It also prevents uncontrolled muscle growth when stimulated by testosterone or intensive training. In livestock fattening, beef cattle are already being injected with antibodies against the protein. If a way were found in humans to switch off the regulatory mechanism of the corresponding gene, the muscles would also swell accordingly. What the skeleton and the tendons say about this in the medium term, which are not stimulated at the same time, can only be imagined as a horror vision. In any case, the cattle can hardly stand today. The slaughterhouse seems pure mercy.

And what you need to consider when using it

It's not just the risk of an abruptly ended career that mercilessly tugs at the athletes' physique and psyche. The side effects are fatal with any type of doping. To name a few, anabolic steroids also enlarge the heart muscle, but not the arteries. A heart attack due to undersupply of the heart muscle and arteriosclerosis due to deposits in the blood vessels are one of the consequences. In addition, artificial sex hormones change gender: the woman's breasts recede and she shows masculine features; the man's grows into female forms while at the same time his sperm count decreases - he becomes infertile. This could be observed only too clearly in the "manwomen" of the GDR sports squad from the 1960s and 70s. Many of the top athletes of the time now suffer from severe depression and social exclusion.

The problem with blood doping is, on the one hand, the risk of infection (AIDS, hepatitis) if blood is supplied by someone else, and on the other hand there is a general risk of thrombosis due to the increased proportion of solids in the blood. Experienced athletes drink a lot to reduce both their hemocrit level and thus the risk of detection and the risk of thrombosis. The still theoretical dangers of gene doping need not be mentioned here. However, scientists are already warning of previously unforeseeable consequences.

… that's how I need violence

To this day, systematic reasons are responsible for practiced doping: equating international importance with rank in the medal table prevents any approach to renunciation at national level. In addition, there is the valid standard of international performance norms, which in turn often arose under doping conditions. And last but not least, the absurd public demand for increasingly crass records. "Many athletes don't dope because they want to gain an advantage," says Frank Schönborn from the University of Witten/Herdecke, "but because they want to compensate for a disadvantage. They act reactively."

In view of such facts, without chemical helpers, talented youngsters already see themselves before their careers end before it even begins. Against the background of recent events, the "spirit of sport" that is so often invoked seems particularly far away. A responsible society should urge a re-setting of norms and standards and embrace athletic performance as nature intended.

Popular topic