Genetic Profile Determines Who Can Use Steroids Without Getting Caught
Athletes with East Asian ethnic backgrounds can use significant amounts of the anabolic steroid testosterone while avoiding detection by current doping protocols according to a study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM). The testosterone: epitestosterone ratio (T:E ratio) test is the standard doping procedure used to screen athletes for testosterone use by several sporting bodies including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA has established a threshold of 4.0 for T:E ratio as indicative of testosterone administration. Athletes who trigger the threshold are subjected to additional testing (carbon isotope ratio test) to determine if the elevated testosterone ratio can be attributed to synthetic testosterone.
A certain type of genetic variation called the UGT2B17 homozygous deletion/deletion genotype gives steroid tested athletes of Asian ethnicity a huge advantage over athletes lacking the genetic variation. Studies have shown that as many as 40% of athletes with UGT2B17 homozygous deletion/deletion genotype can take at least 500 mg of testosterone enanthate and still maintain a 4:1 T:E ratio. Athletes of Asian ethnic backgrounds are most likely to possess the “doping friendly” genotype.
The T:E ratio has long been known to be flawed and largely ineffective by individuals who worked with steroid tested athletes. Underground steroid guru Dan Duchaine first alerted athletes decades ago that some of them could get away with taking small amounts of testosterone even when tested. BALCO mastermind Victor Conte concurred more recently about the ease of beating the steroid testing system. Anti-doping experts such as Charles Yesalis and Don Catlin have also reluctantly acknowledged that this is true.
The T:E ratio test results in a lot of false negatives (athletes use testosterone but don’t get caught) as well as false positives (innocent athletes test positive for steroid use). "I could figure out how to take a fair amount of testosterone and you’d never catch me, and if I can say that, a lot of others can too," says Don Catlin.
The BJSM study was entitled “Steroid profiles of professional soccer players: an international comparative study”. It compared the steroid profile of 57 Africans, 32 Asians, 50 Caucasians and 32 Hispanics and found significant genetic variations among all ethnic groups when it came to the UGT2B17 gene. The study found that Asian athletes were more likely than other ethnic groups to possess the UGT2B17 deletion gene followed by Hispanics, Africans and Caucasians. Previous studies have suggested other ethnic groups may be even more likely to possess the doping advantageous genotype. The doping-friendly genetic variation was present in 78% of ethnic group identified as “Mulatto (Brazilian).”
The Swiss researchers concluded that the unique and non-specific T:E ratio of 4.0 was not a suitable anti-doping protocol. But rather than reject the flawed T:E ratio test, the researchers proposed a solution that would discriminate between different ethnic groups. They proposed ethnic specific thresholds for athletes such that ethnic groups with highest probability of the UGT2B17 deletion gene would face the most stringent threshold i.e. African:5.6; Asian:3.8; Caucasian:5.7; Hispanic:5.8.
The ethnic-specific thresholds are an inadequate solution for several reasons including, but not limited to, the increasingly multicultural composition of most societies. Furthermore, there is considerable intra-ethnic variability in the doping-friendly genotype. Eastern Asian ethnic groups are much significantly more likely to possess the UGT2B17 genotype than Asian Pacific groups. Koreans (78%) are more likely to possess the genotype than Japanese/Southern Asian/Southern Chinese (30.4%). So, ethnic-specific thresholds based on broad categories like Asians or Africans are too broad and consequently offer little advantage to the non-specific threshold of 4.0.
Testosterone was the very first anabolic-androgenic steroid to be isolated, synthesized, and administered in humans. It was the first steroid to be used by athletes for performance-enhancing purposes. Athletes have used it in sports competition for over 50 years. The use of the T:E ratio anti-doping test has not deterred much less eliminated the use of testosterone in sports. The testosterone loophole is indicative of the abysmal failure of anti-doping agencies at addressing doping in sports. If athletes can still get away with using the most basic, primary anabolic steroids, then they certainly are not fearful that anti-doping technology will ever catch up. A level playing field doesn’t exist even at the genotypic level even when it comes to the ability escape doping detection. Furthermore, could there be a rogue chemist who creates a pharmaceutical drug that can block the UGT2B17 enzyme or a scientist who can use gene therapy to alter the UGT2B17 gene?
“Ethnicity matters in detecting steroid use,” March 12, 2009
“Some Athletes’ Genes Help Outwit Doping Test,” April 30, 2008
“Common Doping Test for Athletes is Unfair (and Racist),” March 23, 2008
By Millard Baker