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Will Xenoandrogens Become the Next Big Menace of Anti-doping Committees?
- Updated: April 25, 2012
It took only four years for xenoandrogens to transform from a by-product of university-lab experiment gone astray into the hottest performance-enhancing group of substances available.
In 2008 a group of scientists in Japan fed the rats modified tocopherol and observed their reaction. The main aim of their experiment was to prove that some changes in the tocopherol molecule are safe and can be used in food fortification. The results were nothing short of shocking: high IGF-1 levels, significantly lowered glucocorticoid catabolism, AR stimulation.
More research followed and the first reports of athletes using modified tocopherols surfaced as early as in 2010. What’s behind such a swift implementation of a new research? The answer is simple: basic building blocks or “raw materials” of xenoandrogens are common edible substances. The new product is in fact technically still considered a food – e.g. a subgroup of tocopherols.
Modifications have no names, only numbers. 254 of them exist so far, each with slightly different structural changes and effects.
The name xenoandrogens is somewhat misleading – it was originally used to describe chemical pollutants disrupting hormonal balance in animals. But modified tocopherols (and later similar substances) proved hard to classify: they are not plant-derived (like phytoandrogens), nor are they hormones (like anabolic steroids). They are, however, designed to mimick known steroids in some of their effects.
Even as athletes in Europe started to discover xenoandrogens, so did the doping watchdogs. To be sure – every new group of performance enhancing compounds brings with it a dilemma of prohibiting it or not. Modification of a harmless substance can prove a true Catch-22.
Recent reports by German media suggest that xenoandrogens actually will be banned in organized sports. It seems that most anti-doping authorities believe that the use of any performance-enhancing substance should be banned as it gives unfair edge to those using it.
This approach will no doubt raise many questions regarding phytohormones and various natural precursors of steroid hormones (like campesterol or beta-sitosterol) which have been so far tolerated.
Then there is the question of detection. Testing all tocopherol modifications is not realistic. Testing tocopherol itself can also mean disqualification of athletes using plain vitamin E. Therefore, novel tests measuring the level of IGF-1 and related growth factors have been suggested. It would require comparing samples of athlete’s blood or urine through several months or even years (higher levels of growth factors and elevated levels of displaced glucocorticoids are the only measurable sign of xenoandrogen use so far).
This is not the first time the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) considers banning harmless and hard-to-detect substance. Only few years ago it seemed that we are really close to achieving the holy grail of muscle-growth, namely myostatin inhibition. In the end the drugs that worked well with rats proved useless with humans but WADA started to develop methods to reveal any unnatural changes in human body over long period of time.