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McGwire's edge

September 18, 1998

Mark McguireBy Kate Coleman / Staff Writer




Mark McGwire, the ball player who broke Roger Maris' home-run record, takes the controversial dietary supplement androstenedione.

Pronounced an-dro-steen-di-own, the supplement was spotted by an Associated Press reporter in St. Louis Cardinals slugger McGwire's locker about two weeks before he batted his record-breaking 62nd season home run Sept. 8.

There's been a lot of controversy ever since.

--cont. from lifestyle--

A substance produced in some plants and in the gonads - the testicles or ovaries - of animals, androstenedione hasn't been around long enough to know what side effects will show up years later, according to Dr. Frank Bellino, an endocrinologist and program administrator at National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging. Hazards may include liver and prostate problems, even the risk of cancer.

"I think it's potentially extremely dangerous," he says.

Mike Martin, academic adviser and assistant baseball coach at Hagerstown Community College, says he's unaware that any of his athletes are using androstenedione, or andro, but he would advise against it.

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For Martin, the question is a moral and ethical issue. He sees that we live in a fast society - especially in sports - where everyone wants to get where they want to be as fast as they can. Athletes want to be bigger, stronger and faster. Too often, hard work is something that's left out of the equation.

He understands the pressures young athletes face: They want scholarships, and many have dreams of becoming professional athletes.

But Martin believes McGwire has the ability to hit home runs without the use of andro. Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, who has been neck and neck with McGwire for the home run record, does not take the supplement.

McGwire is an exceptional athlete who works hard, but he's a role model. Martin says kids see McGwire taking the supplement, think it works and may take it, not considering what it could do to them in the long run.

Androstenedione, which can be converted into testosterone or estrogen, is being synthetically manufactured and sold as a dietary supplement, not as a drug, so it doesn't require approval by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is available without a prescription.

It's not cheap. A month's supply of the minimum-recommended dosage costs $20 to $70 at local health food stores and fitness centers.

Advocates of andro claim that taking it can result in higher levels of testosterone, which can cause increased strength and energy, leaner muscle mass and decreased body fat. Another reported effect is increased libido. Acne and aggressive behavior may develop, and women who take andro may experience facial hair growth and deepening voices.

Illegal in Canada

Banned by National Football League, National College Athletic Association and International Olympic Committee, use of androstenedione is not prohibited in Major League Baseball. It is illegal - even in prescription form - in Canada, and it's not for sale in France or Switzerland, according to John L. Lestini Jr., chairman-director of National Steroid Research Center and Other Drugs of Abuse in Sports.

Although androstenedione has not been identified as an anabolic steroid, it acts in much the same way, says Robert "Bo" Myers, principal of Hancock Middle/Senior High School and president of Washington County Principals Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

Parents may suspect their teen athletes are using it if they notice extraordinary gains in size and strength or unusually aggressive behavior, Myers says.

"Athletes need to have a greater fear of the unknown," Lestini says.

Maryland has no high school drug testing policy, according to Eugene "Yogi" Martin, Supervisor of Health, Physical Education and Athletics for Washington County schools.

Even if it did, andro use might not be detected. There's no research regarding testing for androstenedione, Lestini says.

Washington County Schools policy on participation in athletics prohibits the use of alcohol, drugs and controlled dangerous substances.

Yogi Martin says he wants a level playing field for his high school athletes.

"We're not advocating anything beyond a good, healthy diet," he says.

Phil Physioc, who has been a competitive body builder and owns Fitness Priority Inc. in Hagerstown, agrees that nutrition is the key to fitness.

Although he has taken other supplements, Physioc doesn't use androstenedione, but he has customers who do and are pleased with the results. People want the extra edge they believe performance-enhancing supplements can supply, Physioc says.

"Nothing replaces good diet and hard work," he adds.

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