Basics of Steroid Testing: A layman’s guide to steroids

A layman’s guide to steroids:

Testosterone, which is a type of anabolic-androgenic steroids, is known to build muscle tissue & cause the development of male secondary sex characteristics. But, as the natural form of testosterone has a half life of only ~10 minutes in the body. So, for therapeutic purposes, testosterone-like, long-lasting, synthetic steroids have been designed by altering natural testosterone.

Steroid Abuse:

These anabolic steroids are frequently abused in different types of professional sports and athletics that demand strength, physique & developed endurance as such steroids simulate testosterone in building the muscle mass and physical strength and thus help in attaining a competitive edge and assist in recovery from injury. Such a misuse of steroids is prohibited under anti-doping policy by many sports organizations across the globe. So, a wide range of tests have been designed & are under consistent evolution to increase specificity and sensitivity of detecting and deterring performance-enhancing drugs abuse by competitors in various sports. Having said that, it shouldn’t surprise you that every year over 100,000 drug tests are conducted worldwide at a whooping cost of $30 million!

Steroid Testing:

The steroids that are produced naturally in the body have a different carbon13 / carbon12 (C12/C13) ratios to those that have been introduced illicitly i.e. synthetic steroids. Various techniques have developed that accurately & sensitively test for the presence of illegal steroids in the athletes by refining the measurements of these two isotopes. There is an International Standard for Testing (IST) whose purpose is to plan for effective testing and to maintain the integrity and identity of samples, from notifying the athlete to transporting samples for analysis. So, most of the steroid testing services follow these guidelines laid down by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Testing Methodologies:

There are many laboratory based as well as kit based methodologies for detecting testosterone or any of its known metabolites. Laboratory based techniques may involve, amongst others, antibody based screening, Liquid/GC Chromatography while Thin Layer Chromatography may help in low cost preliminary analysis. The results obtained by Chromatographic analysis may be coupled with Mass Spectrometry (MS) for sensitive as well as specific diagnosis and for validation purposes. The nature of samples required for such tests is conciliatory as blood, urine or even hair follicle samples may be used.

Recently, new sample collection methods like Saliva drug screening or Oral fluid-based drug screening & sweat drug screening have been developed which can detect presence of a range of compounds in respective samples. Although such drug tests are being preferred for their convenience and non-invasive nature but saliva tests have very short detection periods compared with other methods & the number of drugs that can be detected with sweat tests is quite limited. So, these tests are not so common as compared to urine or serum based tests. For periodic monitoring purposes many rapid screening kits, which are based on various calorimetric assays, are available commercially.

**This article is NEITHER meant to be an alternative to professional healthcare consultation NOR as a guide to self medication


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