Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Test confuses bodybuilding with alcoholism

While the average citizen is being a couch potato, you are out training. While the average citizen is surfing raunchy websites, you are searching for new information on how to improve your body. While the average citizen is stuffing his face with crisps, cookies and other junk food, you are drinking a nutritious protein shake. Then you find yourself in the doctor's surgery and he looks up from the test results he's just received for you and shakes his head.

"Well, well, well," grumbles the medic. "Been drinking again have we?"

It could happen to you, according to a publication in the Hungarian scientific journal Orvosi Hetilap. The article describes a study in which researchers tried out a test that doctors use to identify alcoholism on three bodybuilders. The bodybuilders drink no alcohol at all, but have been using protein shakes and other bodybuilding supplements for a few months. According to the test results, the bodybuilders are alcoholics.

The test used by the Hungarians measures the concentration of carbohydrate-deficient transferrin [CDT] in the blood. Transferrin is a polypeptide that carries iron from the body’s digestive organs to the bone marrow. Bone marrow is where the red blood cells [which contain iron] are made, which provide the body with oxygen. Red blood cells need iron to make haemoglobin, the molecule to which they attach the oxygen.

The composition of the transferrin changes in people who drink more than five or six glasses of alcohol per day. A varying number of sialic acid chains are attached to the transferrin molecule: in people who drink a lot, the number decreases. CDT is the fraction of transferring molecules with no, one or two sialic acid chains. The higher the CDT, the more you drink.

But how the three teetotaller bodybuilders came to show up as alcoholics in the CDT test, the researchers don't know. They suspect that the protein supplements have a similar effect on the liver as alcohol does. The proteins damage the organ, the researchers suspect.

Test confuses bodybuilding with alcoholism

We think the Hungarians are barking up the wrong tree. Bodybuilders use more muscle-building substances that just protein concentrates, and these contain more likely candidates for causing liver damage. Oral designer steroids, for example.

In the medical literature, doctors often point an accusing finger at foods or supplements that bodybuilders use. In all cases, the doctors are talking about bodybuilders who are ill. When seeking explanations for why the bodybuilders became ill, the doctors are at the mercy of what the bodybuilders tell them.

Because bodybuilders are usually not completely open with doctors about the substances they have been using – even if it's a matter of life and death, or saving their balls – there are all sorts of stories going around, like the ones about jaundice caused by proteins and creatine or life-threatening allergic reactions to a testosterone booster.

Orv Hetil. 2008 Nov 2;149(44):2087-90.