Ramirez: A Lesson in Steroid Biology

When a record-breaking athlete gets caught for doping, it’s not news anymore. It shouldn’t be. People have been taking drugs to increase physical prowess since ancient times. We’ve recently seen it with Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and now LA Dodger’s star Manny Ramirez, whose urine tested positive for a medication on MLB’s banned substance list.
The MLB was questioning the discovery of synthetic testosterone in Ramirez’s lab tests. Ramirez had been planning on waving that suspicion away by saying he had been using DHEA, a supplement made in the adrenal gland that is weaker than testosterone and that is currently not banned. What sealed the deal was his positive test for hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). It occurs naturally in a woman’s body when she’s pregnant, and is a drug that is only federally approved for use as a fertility medication. In women, it is used to induce ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovary. For boys, it is used to induce natural testosterone production in the testicles to help with puberty. For men, the only medical reason a man might use it is to boost testosterone levels for fertility purposes. It is not commonly given for erectile dysfunction, as Viagra, Cialis or Levitra are more effective treatments and are less painful to administer. hCG can only be given by injection, while both Cialis and Viagra come in handy dandy pills.
So why hCG? Well, testosterone supplements are taken by athletes because they are anabolic: they increase muscle mass and performance. However, steroids effectively shut down a man’s own testosterone production. Because the body is being supplied with a steroid that serves testosterone’s purpose, the testicles see no need to continue to produce their own testosterone and cease production. Fertility is wiped out too while men are taking anabolic steroids. Because of these effects, the testicles actually shrink. HCG is commonly used by steroid users when coming off of anabolic steroids, to normalize the hormone signaling and prevent testicle shrinkage. It stimulates the testicles to start testosterone production again, after being told to turn it off. This makes the system able to respond to the next cycle of anabolic steroids. And on and on it goes, the process of steroid stacking and cycling.
So, the fact that hCG was found in Ramirez’s blood suggests that he was doing other things with other supplements as well. Another star now fallen off the pedestal…