Supplement talk going, going due to McGwire Debate turns up study

baseball defends usage

August 25, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Major-league home run leader Mark McGwire may have inadvertently recharged the debate over muscle-building nutritional supplements with his recent admission that he uses a testosterone-enhancing drug, but it seems unlikely that it will prompt Major League Baseball to place tighter restrictions on the legal products that many players use to improve their performance.

At least not any time soon.

McGwire confirmed last week that he uses a substance called androstenedione, which causes a temporary increase in the amount of testosterone the body produces and helps build lean muscle mass. The substance has been banned by the NFL, the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA, but is not covered by Major League Baseball's substance abuse policy.

Like the widely used nutritional supplement Creatine -- which McGwire also has acknowledged taking -- "andro" does not come under the direct jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration and has not been subjected to the kind of intense scientific scrutiny that precedes the marketing of controlled pharmaceuticals.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have been collecting data on both substances, but have yet to find justification for restricting the use of either one.

"We have been doing some work in this area," said players association counsel Gene Orza, "but it seems terribly unfair to Mark McGwire to be discussing it at this time. People take cortisone to heal faster. They take aspirin. This is a legal substance.

"We're perfectly willing to discuss it, but not at a time when Mark McGwire's chase of the home run record might be compromised. Mark McGwire is not doing anything improper at all."

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig apparently agrees. He acknowledged that there is concern about the long-term safety of the new wave of muscle-building supplements, but he does not want to do or say anything that would diminish McGwire's 1998 feat.

"I think what Mark McGwire has accomplished is so remarkable and he has handled it all so beautifully, we want to do everything we can to enjoy a great moment in baseball history," Selig said.

McGwire's use of androstenedione came to light after an Associated Press reporter noticed a container of it in McGwire's locker. The Cardinals first baseman acknowledged he had been using it for about a year and defended it as a safe and legal product.

The resultant controversy -- inflated by the media hype surrounding McGwire's 53 home runs and assault on baseball's single-season home run record of 61 -- prompted the Cardinals' front office to release a statement denying that the drug is an anabolic steroid and defending McGwire's right to continue using it.

"Androstenedione is a natural substance, which is a natural precursor product of testosterone. It has no proven anabolic steroid effect nor significant side effects. It contains no testosterone," the statement said. "It stimulates slight increase in one's natural testosterone levels for a short period of time [one hour]. Taken approximately one hour before workouts, it may make one's workout more efficient.

"Due to current research that lacks documentary evidence of any adverse side effects, the Cardinals' medical staff cannot object to Mark's choice to use this legal and over-the-counter supplement."

The players union has taken essentially the same position, but union officials began compiling research data on the impact of nutritional supplements after concern surfaced recently about the widespread use of Creatine in baseball locker rooms.

Creatine is a compound of three amino acids that are produced naturally in the human body, but can be synthesized to produce a higher dosage that promotes lean muscle mass and allows athletes to recover more quickly from exercise. Androstenedione apparently has similar benefits.

Both are uncontrolled substances that have not been in use long enough to determine if they present any long-term health risk.

"There's hardly any science out there," Orza said. "We've just begun the project [of collecting data], but we're not going to do it in the context of Mark McGwire and the home run record. We don't want there to be any suggestion that Mark McGwire should be anything but applauded. In my opinion, this is a shameful distraction."

The FDA does compile adverse incident reports on nutritional supplements, but apparently has not seen substantial evidence that either substance should be removed from the market.

The Orioles do not have a club policy regarding either substance, but only because individual clubs are not allowed to set substance abuse policy.

The Anaheim Angels found that out the hard way last year when they tried to force outfielder Tony Phillips to go on paid leave and undergo drug rehabilitation. The players union and baseball's Player Relations Committee sided against the club in a grievance proceeding to confirm that drug policy comes under the jurisdiction of the industry's collective bargaining agreement.

Though the Phillips case involved an illegal substance -- crack cocaine -- the same applies to legal drugs.

"Pat Gillick and I did talk over the weekend about how unfortunate it is that it [androstenedione] is banned in some leagues and not banned in baseball and basketball," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss, "and what a confusing message that sends. I guess it's something that the [commissioner's office] is best equipped to evaluate."

McGwire seemed genuinely surprised at all the commotion. He has long been an enthusiastic proponent of nutritional supplements and did nothing to hide the container of androstenedione.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's legal," McGwire said recently. "I've been with my nutrition company since 1992 and they're not going to give me bad stuff. I'm not worried about it a bit."

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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