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Illegal Bodybuilding Supplements and Their Risks

There's a reason why many performance-enhancing drugs are banned from sports and illegal to purchase. One reason is the unfair competitive advantage that these drugs have to offer, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The more important reason these drugs are illegal is that they present serious health risks to their users. Here's a look at some of the most common illegal performance-enhancing drugs and their health consequences.

Anabolic Steroids

The most commonly abused illegal performance enhancing drugs amongst bodybuilders are anabolic steroids. According to some estimates, as many as three to six million Americans are illegally using these steroids. Many of these users are average people with regular jobs and families, but in an attempt to build their physique they are willing to risk purchasing steroids on the black market. One type of anabolic steroid is straight testosterone, but more frequently, anabolic steroids contain synthetic types of testosterone. Although testosterone is legal with a prescription for certain medical conditions, it is illegal for non-medical uses such as muscle gain.

Risks of Illegal Steroid Use

The risks of these steroids are many. To name but a few:
  • Premature baldness
  • Acne so severe it requires medical acne treatment
  • In men, prominent breasts
  • In men, shrunken testicles
  • In women, a deeper voice
  • In women, increased body hair
  • Infertility
  • Liver abnormalities and liver cancers
  • Increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • Hypertension and other heart problems
  • Psychiatric disorders including depression and violent outbursts
  • In teens, inhibited growth


Another substance that is illegal without a prescription is androstenedione, more commonly called “andro.” Andro is a hormone produced naturally by adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes and is converted into testosterone and other hormones by the body. Ironically, even though bodybuilding magazines tell their readers that andro allows athletes to train longer and harder, scientific studies have proven that andro doesn't actually build muscle. In fact, most andro is eventually converted to estrogen – the primary female hormone – by the body.

Risks of Andro

The risks of taking andro include:
  • Shrinking testicles
  • Acne
  • Low sperm count
  • In men, enlarged breasts
  • In women, baldness

Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

Human growth hormone, which is also referred to by its scientific name, gonadotropin, and its nickname, HGH, is a naturally-occuring hormone whose production decreases with age. HGH has been promoted by certain less-scrupulous parts of the fitness community as a shortcut to building lean muscle mass, losing weight, and recovering quickly from intense workouts. The synthetic version of HGH is called somatropin. Legal uses of HGH are mostly for growth disorders related to a deficiency of human growth hormone. A more controversial legal use of human growth hormone is to slow down the aging process. HGH itself, in its pure form, is difficult to obtain on the black market, but many fly-by-night internet supplement providers offer legal “HGH” supplements. These supplements usually do not contain actual HGH, but other, legal substances which convert to HGH within the body. Buyer beware: The majority of these supplements contain so little of the proteins that trigger HGH production that they are borderline scams.

Risks of HGH

The risks of taking HGH are not as severe as taking anabolic steroids, but there are still plenty of serious risks associated with illegal HGH supplementation. These include:
  • High blood cholesterol levels (AKA hyperlipidemia)
  • Heart disease
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle weakness

Erythropoietin (EPO)

EPO is a hormone that has gained notoriety for its abuse in the cycling world. It is not used by bodybuilders to gain muscle mass, but is more often used by endurance athletes, including cyclists and distance runners. It's used legally to treat anemia in people who suffer from severe kidney problems due to its ability to increase the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin.

Risks of EPO

Because EPO increases blood production, veins and capillaries can clog with too much blood. If this occurs within the brain, the result is a stroke. If it occurs within the heart, the result is a heart attack. According to a 2004 article, eighteen pro cyclists have died due to the adverse effects of EPO doping. If you are a man who wants shrunken testicles, a high bill for your acne treatment, feminine breasts, and depression, then you should definitely start taking illegal supplements for your workout. If you're a woman looking to gain a competitive edge and you are also hoping for more facial and body hair, you should also start taking illegal supplements. If you want to waste your money, you may want to heed internet ads that advise you to pay for ineffective supplements that come to you via UPS. However, if you don't want any of these consequences, then stay away from illegal and barely-legal performance-enhancing drugs. In bodybuilding as in life, there are indeed short-cuts. Each short-cut, though, comes with its own set of consequences.

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