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Victoria Felkar: Why is the line between legal and banned PED blurring?

Anabolic steroids, SARMs and peptides promise bigger, stronger and faster muscles and quicker recovery, but performance-enhancing drugs don’t come without risk. Leading PED researcher Victoria Felkar explains why these substances are soaring in popularity, even among young women, and why there's always been a grey area between legal and banned substances

Victoria Felkar
Victoria Felkar

Victoria Felkar is an interdisciplinary researcher and instructor working across the fields of kinesiology, medicine, critical studies and the humanities. Here specific research focus explores women’s health and female hormone manipulation within sport and medicine. Follow her on Instagram. Visit victoriafelkar.com.

Steroids and PED popularity is soaring

In a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation Unfiltered sat down with Victoria Felkar, a researcher and expert in the field of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) and women’s health and training to discover what’s behind the rise in use of anabolic steroids, SARMs, peptides and other PED, especially amongst young women, and why the line between legal and banned drugs appears to be blurring. You can watch the full interview here.

The rise of PED

Performance-enhancing drugs have long been a subject of fascination and controversy in the world of sports and fitness. These substances promise enhanced physical capabilities – including bigger, stronger and faster muscles – quicker recovery times and a competitive edge, making them attractive to both elite athletes and everyday enthusiasts, although not without some potent side-effects and health risks.

The main categories of PED include anabolic steroids, selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) and peptides. Each category works differently to enhance performance, muscle growth and endurance (see below for more on each).

Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of testosterone, promoting muscle mass and strength. However, their use comes with significant risks, including liver damage, cardiovascular issues, and hormonal imbalances, according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

SARMs, on the other hand, offer a more selective approach, targeting muscle and bone tissues while supposedly reducing the risk of side effects. Peptides, which include growth hormone secretagogues, stimulate the body’s natural production of growth hormone, aiding in muscle recovery and fat loss.

Despite the allure of improved performance, the side effects of these substances cannot be ignored. Common health issues across these categories include hormonal disturbances, cardiovascular strain, and potential long-term health implications. Understanding the how and why behind each type of PED, as well as their benefits and risks, is crucial for making informed decisions about their use

What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone, designed to promote muscle growth and enhance physical performance. They increase protein synthesis within cells, leading to an accumulation of cellular tissue, particularly in muscles. Anabolic steroids are a commonly used PED in bodybuilding and athletics to achieve greater muscle mass and strength quickly.

However, their use is associated with significant side effects such as liver toxicity, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and alterations in mood and behaviour, according to the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Long-term use can also disrupt natural hormone production, leading to conditions such as hypogonadism (small testes) and gynecomastia (man boobs).

What are SARMs?

Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) are a class of compounds that selectively bind to androgen receptors in muscle and bone tissues, mimicking the effects of testosterone without affecting other organs.

This selective action aims to provide the muscle-building benefits of anabolic steroids while minimising the side effects. SARMs, such as Ostarine (MK-2866) and Ligandrol (LGD-4033), have shown promise in increasing lean muscle mass and strength, according to the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. However, the long-term safety of SARMs remains under scrutiny, with potential risks including hormonal imbalances and liver damage.

What are peptides?

Peptides are short chains of amino acids that serve as building blocks for proteins. In the context of performance enhancement, peptides like growth hormone-releasing peptides (GHRPs) stimulate the body’s natural production of growth hormone. This can enhance muscle growth, accelerate recovery, and promote fat loss.

Peptides such as Ipamorelin and GHRP-6 can effectively increase growth hormone levels without the significant side effects associated with synthetic growth hormone administration, according to the Journal of Clinical Investigation. Yet misuse of peptides can still lead to adverse effects like joint pain, water retention, and potential impacts on insulin sensitivity.

Are there other types of PEDs?

Aside from anabolic steroids, SARMs, and peptides, other main types of performance-enhancing drugs include stimulants, erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), and beta-2 agonists.

Stimulants, like caffeine and amphetamines, enhance alertness and reduce fatigue, improving overall performance. ESAs, such as erythropoietin (EPO), increase red blood cell production, enhancing oxygen delivery to muscles and improving endurance.

Beta-2 agonists, like clenbuterol, are used for their bronchodilatory effects and ability to promote fat loss while preserving muscle mass.

Listen the Unfiltered Extra full podcast episode with Victoria Felkar on Spotify

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