Let’s Talk Steroids, science and Dangers in combat sports

(Update July 23, 2106 – using this spreadsheet documenting reported MMA PED test failures to date, I evaluated all in-competition test failures.  The data reveals that athletes using prohibited substances in-competition won 45 times and lost 65 times.  Removing the marijuana tests from the equation skews the results a little but caught PED using athletes are batting below .500)


An interesting argument arose on Twitter today among some people I follow asking for the science, or lack thereof, behind the belief that a user of illicit PED’s is somehow an inherent danger to their ‘clean’ opponents.

At the same time a worthwhile opinion short article was published today by Jordan Breen on Sherdog asking the same question. Breen notes

“The basic argument, of course, is that prizefighters’ explicit goal is to do physical damage to one another and for that reason a juiced-to-the-gills fighter is uniquely harmful to his opponent. The terrific question in these discussions is always “What if a fighter in the UFC died as a result of injuries in a fight, then his opponent evaluated positive for PEDs?” This hypothetical shouldn’t be completely disregarded; it’s a very major question that is not beyond the realm of possibility. However, if you consider the deaths that have occurred in MMA, there is a common theme and it’s certainly not PEDs.

Breen goes on to talk about MMA’s Camiseta VfL Wolfsburg fatality list noting that poor oversight, not PED’s appear to be the common thread.  It is worth noting that the conclusion that PED’s are not a theme in these deaths is not iron clad as numerous of these deaths occurred Camiseta Urawa Red Diamonds in an era or jurisdictions without PED testing or lax PED testing so it cannot be said with certainty whether PED’s did or did not play a role in any of these fatalities.

It is a fair point that poor regulatory oversight can result in greater dangers to athletes than PED use.  One can look to MMA’s troubling and ever growing rapid Exteme Weight cut injury list as an example of this.

Nate Diaz likes to say “everybody’s on steroids“.  Perhaps not everyone but MMA’s PED list is an ever growing concern.  I count my self on the side calling for objective and sensible restriction of PED’s in combat sports with meaningful enforcement of these restrictions and even more hold the view that if / when an opponent is awfully injured or killed at the hands of an illicit PED using opponent there will be legal fallout.

Considering the ABC appears prepared to clarify that the sport’s true judging criteria ought to be damage, damage, damage Breen and others ask a very fair question.  What exactly is the science behind the belief that a PED using fighter creates inherent dangers Camiseta Selección de fútbol de México for a clean opponent?  As Neurologist Dr. Goodman of VADA notes, it may be challenging to obtain such studies for useful reasons.

What we know is PED’s, by definition, create performance enhancing abilities.  These can include size, speed, strength and duration.  Injury is caused by force and I suspect a Biomechanical engineer would be the best qualified expert to opine on the enhanced injuring abilities PED’s can give a trained combatant.

Physicist Jason Thalken weighed in with the following constructive comments

I have archived numerous studies addressing safety issues in combat sports but few, if any, squarely address Breen’s question.  I invite anybody to point to peer evaluated studies addressing this essential topic.  I will add them to the below list.

Repeated sub concussive blows are as bad as concussions for long term TBI

Steroid users enjoy advantage over their clean peers years after they stopped using the drugs

Mileage may be a better marker than concussions of long term TBI for athletes

Steroid use is linked to greater TBI for the users

Contact sport participation is the greatest known risk element for CTE

Fighter age and time between bouts are linked to TBI rates in combat sports

Mileage is one of the most significant elements for brain trauma in boxers 

Brain injury risks increase with level of competition

Number of bouts and years combating result in decreased brain volume in combatants

Knockouts / TKO’s by punches enhanced tenfold after gloves introduced to MMA

Hard sparring leads to much more brain dysfunction than knockouts



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