Jerry BrainumPart 1: Sex Hormones
Most of us involved in weight training are on a lifelong quest to maximize physical development and health. My quest has evolved over the years, and recently it’s taken a new turn: I’ve become aware of the major role that self-prescribed blood tests can play. If you’re not having regular blood tests and charting the results, you’re shortchanging yourself.
I’m a firm believer in blood testing as a diagnostic tool for bodybuilding as well as an early-warning system. The tests covered in the first installment of this series are the most bodybuilding-specific tests available, including those for testosterone, DHT and estrogen. If you’re not making the progress you think you should be making, your levels of those hormones may be the culprits. It makes no sense to train for hundreds of hours per year and spend thousands of dollars on supplements and gym memberships and not have this basic information. Invest in blood tests regularly, and you’ll know for sure. If you’ve ever used anabolic steroids, it’s even more important to get tested regularly.
There are two ways to have the tests performed. If your internist understands athletes, get what you can through your health insurance. You can also use independent labs that do this kind of testing confidentially. If you choose that route, you can be confident that you alone will get the results.
The bottom line is that you must be proactive about this. If you’re serious about bodybuilding, you need to know your numbers on these tests.
Steve was clearly agitated. He’d phoned me after receiving a call from his doctor’s office. Lab tests had showed that one of his liver enzymes was slightly elevated. The doctor ominously suggested that Steve undergo a series of liver-function tests to deduce the exact cause of the abnormal enzyme finding. But it turned out that this particular liver enzyme also exists in heart and muscle and that its blood levels rise when muscle is damaged. Unless you look at the levels of other liver enzymes, you can be led astray, as occurred in this case. Since Steve was a hard-training bodybuilder, minor elevation of one or two liver enzymes was normal.
Several years ago a famous and successful professional bodybuilder asked me to look at his lab results. Basically they revealed a man in exceptional health, but one test result caught my eye. His level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), a protective form of cholesterol carrier in the blood, was listed as five. Normal levels start at 35, and the higher the figure, the better. Since low HDL levels are linked to cardiovascular disease, you might have concluded that Mr. Universe was in reality Mr. Dead Man Walking—unless you looked at his other blood lipid levels. His total cholesterol was only 120, making his HDL irrelevant. Besides, his blood had been tested while he was on an anabolic-steroid cycle, and some 17-alpha ankylated oral anabolic steroids speed HDL catabolism in the liver. Interestingly, although oral steroids are thought to increase the levels of certain liver enzymes, this man had no such symptoms.
Another bodybuilder panicked when told he might be facing incipient kidney failure, based on the “abnormal” findings of his urinalysis; his creatinine was about twice the normal level. But he’d failed to disclose that he’d been on a creatine-loading regime. After two days of taking creatine, the body passes more than half of it, and it shows up in the urine as creatinine.
These cases illustrate the vital importance of properly interpreting lab-test results. Yet many bodybuilders—and others—don’t bother to have such essential tests done, or do so rarely. That’s a major mistake, since the tests can alert you to future health problems. Much of the damage done by cardiovascular disease, for example, is symptom-free. You feel nothing until a major event, such as a heart attack or stroke, occurs—often the culmination of long-term, silent damage that could have been avoided with preemptive medical treatment.