Maria Sharapova announced at a press conference in 2016 that she had tested positive for the recently-banned drug, Meldonium. Usually used to treat heart conditions, it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances at the start of the year. She then served a 15-month ban from professional tennis.
In 2016, an independent report commissioned by WADA confirmed allegations that the Russian Olympic team had been involved in a state-sponsored doping programme that ran over the course of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. A petition to prevent Russian athletes from competing on behalf of their country in the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was rejected, and 287 athletes were allowed to participate for the Russian federation.
These notorious cases of cheating show how world-class athletes are willing to risk it all on the most public of stages. How many broken records, gold medals, and superstar careers can partly be attributed to banned substances? We’ll never know, but labs such as King’s Forensics' Drug Control Centre - the only WADA accredited lab in the UK - are constantly pushing the envelope to keep pace with the latest doping trends.
Below, Dr Rodrigo Aguilera, Principal Analyst in the Drug Control Centre, details the methods competitors use to take performance enhancing drugs in the 21st century.
Androgenic - Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic Steroids, called more precisely Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids (AAS), are synthetic substances that mimic the effects of testosterone, the male sex hormone and in women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. This hormone helps the body with a number of different functions: normal testosterone levels in women help regulate mood and supports the health of female reproductive tissue and bones even though the concentration in females is very low.
Male Androgens are essential for the development and maintenance of specific reproductive tissues such as the testis, prostate, epididymis, seminal vesicle and penis, as well as for other characteristic male properties such as increased muscle strength, hair growth, etc. To maintain the androgen concentration at appropriate levels, the production rates of androgens in the body must be balanced against the individual rates of metabolic clearance and excretion. The action of androgens in target areas of the body is complicated and depends on the amount of steroids that can penetrate the tissue cells, the extent of metabolic activity (conversion) within the cells, the interactions at molecular level (with the receptor proteins) and finally the action of the androgen receptors at the genomic level (individual’s genetic makeup).