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

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XTC increases cortisol levels by 800 percent

People who regularly use XTC [structural formula shown below] mess up their hormone balance. The combination of dancing and pep pills results in an eight-fold increase in the production of the muscle-destroying cortisol and a slight increase in anabolic testosterone. Psychologists at Swansea University in Wales discovered this after studying the behaviour of twelve party goers in their early twenties during two weekends.

XTC - officially: 3.4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA - was probably developend a slimming preparation. The pharmaceutical company Merck took a patent out for
the amphetamine-like substance in 1913, but never brought it onto the market. XTC causes a hefty increase of the mood enhancer neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which is why users feel energetic and euphoric. That's why XTC has become so popular in the house-culture. Or, more to the point: house culture owes its existence to XTC.

Not much is known about the hormonal effects of XTC. That's why the researchers decided to study eight male and four female students who spent their Saturday evenings bouncing off the walls. On one Saturday evening the students took XTC, on the other they did not.

The figure below shows the amount of cortisol the students had in their blood.

XTC increases cortisol release by 800 percent

Two and a half hours after taking the pills and jumping up and down, the studentsí cortisol level had risen by 800 percent. That's a lot, to put it mildly. The students' testosterone level rose as well, but by much less. The most it rose by was 75 percent.

XTC increases cortisol release by 800 percent

When lab animals are given XTC their testosterone level does not rise; in fact it goes down. Perhaps the students reacted differently because they became more active.

XTC-users often report a rebound after taking the drug. They feel gloomy, unwell and notice that their memory functions less well. The researchers wonder whether this has anything to do with the cortisol peak. Psychobiological studies have shown that a high level of cortisol can cause brain cell damage.

The research is of interest to athletes for a different reason. Performance athletes subject their bodies to high amounts of stress and produce high amounts of cortisol. They try to limit the cortisol production with carefully devised training schedules, diet and supplements. XTC pills will undo all these efforts.

Neuropsychobiology. 2008; 57(4): 165-80.

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