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SINGH: PEDs are not viable fitness shortcuts

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Just yesterday I went to visit an old high school friend — let us call her Jazz — who dorms on Cook. As I walked through her apartment, I was hit with a spectrum of scents — some old food, some incredibly nauseating and some that were hard to identify. After I got over the initial shock, I asked about the unfamiliar smells and Jazz replied they were from the vast selection of protein powders and performance enhancers that littered her counters. 

Jazz has been on a fitness craze inspired to get in better shape by recent fashion trends, those around her and the upcoming summer with its inevitable beach trips. She wants to achieve her ideal body type first and foremost. The healthiness that comes with being toned is merely a bonus for her. Jazz is symbolic of all our peers that embark on the same journey. 

Whether you have done it yourself, or know others that have, you would know that it is no easy task. Going to the gym regularly is exhausting, dieting is miserable and plastic surgery is just too expensive. To make do with the circumstances and the financial budget, many students have found certain “shortcuts” to speed up their process, one of which is by taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). 

PEDs are popular because they increase athletic performances, help lose weight and help with body image. The typical trend is for girls to use PEDs as a means to lose weight while boys use them to build muscle mass. There are three popular performance enhancing drugs and supplements: creatine, anabolic steroids and steroid precursors. 

Creatine can be found at your local pharmacy and even some supermarkets as an over-the-counter product. It is a naturally occurring substance, found in muscle cells, which enables the muscles to produce energy during high-intensity training and heavy lifting. 

Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced variations of the male sex hormone, testosterone. The use of these steroids is solely for medical purposes, as seen in the cases of delayed puberty, muscle loss, cancer and AIDS. Misuse of this steroid is seen in males attempting to attain the “body-builder” figure. 

Most other steroid precursors are illegal until prescribed and also fall under the same umbrella — used to gain larger muscles and increase athletic abilities. It is quite easy to see why many are attracted to such a drug, as it entails fast results while minimizing work ethic. What is not broadly communicated are the hazards of PED consumption. 

In adolescents, the intake of such drugs causes stunted growth since the body realizes it no longer needs to produce certain substances. Other side effects include mood swings, liver problems, high cholesterol, blood-clotting issues and even reduced sperm production in males. Some creatine symptoms may include headaches, nausea, abdominal pain and kidney damage. Other anabolic steroids have detrimental mental effects such as paranoia, extreme irritability, aggression, delusions, impaired judgement and mania (abnormally elevated mood state). 

One in 20 teenagers admitted to using steroids to increase muscle mass. This number should not be this alarmingly high since there is plenty of research done to show the risks. According to the American Physiological Society, a new study done on rodents indicates that performance-enhancing drugs may increase the risk of cocaine use and drug addiction in teens. A previous study has shown that approximately one-third of those who have administered PEDs, or similar substances, also abuse cocaine. 

There is a link between anabolic steroid use and the propensity to use other addictive drugs in young adults, showing that PEDs do affect the risk-taking behavior found in many addicts. People do not take such supplements to increase unhealthy habits yet major negative side effects do occur from these seamlessly harmless drugs. 

It is imperative to physically check yourself and those around you to make sure all are following healthy habits and behavior. Some red flags to look out for are abnormal emotional and psychological changes, rapid changes in body such as sudden weight gain and development of the upper body. Other red flags include increased acne, needle marks on lower body and, in males, there may be enlarged breasts or male-pattern baldness. In females you will notice a deepening in voice, smaller breasts and excessive growth of body hair. 

Steroids, with their countless negative drawbacks, should not be considered as a feasible body-morphing option. Instead a person should opt for healthy lifestyle changes that will help them build character as well as their ideal physique. Diligence, work ethic and a fiercer mindset result from pushing yourself harder. Oftentimes we stray from becoming our best mental and physical selves when we get caught up in fads and shortcuts. After all that has been said on supplements, steroids and shortcuts, ask yourself — is the risk really worth the reward? 

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health,"  runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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