Could the effects of doping be lifelong?

New research shows that dopers could benefit from performance enhancing drugs long after they stop taking them

Words by Simon Schofield

Doped riders who’ve served bans but returned to the sport could continue to get the benefits of performance enhancing drugs for years afterwards, according to the implications of new research.

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Research by scientists at the University of Oslo appears to show that “muscle memory” causes anabolic steroids to be effective long after their initial use.

If the research is confirmed – and it has only been conducted on mice – the implications for anti-doping regulations are huge.

It would mean that two year bans, while a temporary penalty, do not level the playing field for clean athletes when doped riders resume their careers.

Kristian Gundersen, Professor of Physiology at the University of Oslo, who conducted the research in October 2013, told BBC Sport:“I think it is likely that effects could be lifelong or at least lasting decades in humans.

“Our data indicates the exclusion time of two years is far too short. Even four years is too short.”

Gunderson is confident that the work done on mice is applicable to humans.

In his study, mice were exposed to anabolic steroids for two weeks, which resulted in increased muscle mass.

The drug was then withdrawn for three months, a period which corresponds to approximately 15% of a mouse’s lifespan.

After the withdrawal, the mice’s muscle mass grew by 30% in six days following load exercise, while untreated mice showed insignificant muscle growth during the same period.

Gundersen claims that the muscles treated with steroids are like “closed factories”.

“They are  . . . ready to start producing protein again when you start exercising again.”

Anabolic steroids are only one type of PEDs known to have been used in the pro peloton and the new research is not related to the more common agents like EPO or testosterone.

But the findings are worrying for the anti-doping authorities who are desperate to see a fair regime, both in detection of PEDs and to regulate the return of riders who have been caught and served bans.