New research from scientists at the University of Oslo finds that even brief steroid intake can have permanent effects on the user’s body. The researchers say their findings should fuel discussion about how long athletes should be banned if they test positive for doping agents.
According to the university’s statement, professor of physiology Kristian Gundersen and his team gave mice anabolic steroids for two weeks, and then took them off the drug for three months—about 15 percent of the mouse’s life span. Even after the mice resumed load exercise without the steroids, their muscle mass grew by 30 percent in the six days following an exercise session. Mice that didn’t receive steroids showed negligible muscle growth over the same three months.
Taking steroids increases the number of nuclei in the muscle cells. Gundersen says in the statement that even after people stop taking steroids, the extra nuclei remain, building up muscle mass. The study also reports that while the tests were carried out in mice, biological mechanisms in mammals are often alike, so a human athlete who takes steroids for a matter of months could continue to experience the benefits for years afterward.
“I think it is likely that effects could be lifelong or at least lasting decades in humans,” Gundersen told the BBC. According to the University of Oslo statement, the World Anti-Doping Agency currently has a maximum ban of two years for doping offenders, which will change to four years in 2015. The study’s findings suggest that much stricter penalties for steroid users are warranted.
“Our data indicates the exclusion time of two years is far too short,” Gundersen told the BBC. “Even four years is too short.”