Steroid use and kidney function
Nephrology is the study of kidney health. It’s not something you hear about in the bodybuilding supplement world, but it’s perhaps one of the more underrated areas of discussion. On Wednesday March 20th, 47 year old popular bodybuilder and former Arnold Classic Champ Nasser El Sonbaty died, reportedly of kidney disease. There has been a significant amount of speculation including rumors of malaria being the primary cause of subsequent kidney failure. And it’s still not known whether it was actually kidney failure.
A side note – Is Nasser GH15?
Nasser was long rumored to be the actual person behind the popular bodybuilding forum handle known as GH15 (short for god of hormones). GH15 was well known for recommending (if not advising) the use of significant doses of performance enhancers ranging from growth hormone, testosterone, insulin, and trenbolone (“trenbolona” as GH15 says). Still nobody knows if Nasser was truly the one behind the account. Its worth noting GH15 is still posting to this day. Others and myself speculate Nasser was just one of many individuals behind one account.
Steroids and Kidney Function
It’s no secret that top-level bodybuilding pros are using steroids. It’s simply not (at least not commonly) easy to achieve over 250lbs of body weight at single digit bodyfat percentages without some hormonal “assistance”. You have probably heard before anabolic steroids “stress” the kidneys. I bring this up simply because I have already seen rumblings of individuals suggesting Nasser’s death was related to his previous steroid use. This may or may not be true. In reality we will likely never know, but it’s an interesting topic of discussion. A study discussing uridine diphosphate-glucuronosyltransferase 2B17 (let’s just call them UGT enzymes and more specifically UGT2B17) suggested kidney health could be significantly impacted in those with UGT2B17 gene depletion (Deshmukh et al.). In simpler words – The body needs UGT’s to breakdown androgen’s and secrete them properly. It’s your body’s way of maintaining homeostasis and health.
UGT’s are important depending on your goal. If you are trying to increase testosterone, than having fewer UGT’s (expression) will result in greater circulating levels of testosterone. This is because the body cannot break it down as quickly. This isn’t necessary bad if you are trying to augment your hormonal status during times of hard training or contest-prep for example. I previously wrote about an exciting paper showing white tea could decrease testosterone glucuronidation (breakdown), and thus increase circulating testosterone – (read about it here – http://www.advancedmusclesciencelab.com/2012/04/white-tea-testosterone.html). Long term the effects may be detrimental to your kidney health. The first paper-hypothesized individuals with the UGT2B17 gene deletion are going to be more susceptible to this health issue. It’s worth noting that these same people may also be what we call “hyper-responders” to androgens. Meaning they need a smaller dose than the typical person to see greater results.
The paper went on to discuss several case studies in which renal disorders were treated in anabolic steroid users. But in the end they admit in all case studies discussed, discontinuing the use of anabolic steroids repaired the renal disorders. The authors go on to say:
Groups that may benefit from this research are not only AAS users who deliberately take advantage of their unique genetic make-up to evade doping testing, hence will face increased risk of developing renal complications, but include other AAS users, such as recreational users and bodybuilders unaware of the risk, who may inadvertently subject themselves to risks of developing kidney disease. Beyond the athletic arena, administration of AAS should be avoided for patients with nephritic symptoms as it may worsen renal conditions.
Does any of this really tell us whether or not Nasser’s death was a result of steroid use? No not really, but many individuals reported that pictures and video of Nasser indicated he was still a very large and lean bodybuilder, suggesting continued use of steroids even in his retired state. Is it possible steroids played a role? What do you think?
Deshmukh, Nawed et al. “Potentially Harmful Advantage to Athletes: a Putative Connection Between UGT2B17 Gene Deletion Polymorphism and Renal Disorders with Prolonged Use of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids.” Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 5 (2010): 7. NCBI PubMed. Web.