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Roid rage: Steroid use common in 5 percent of teens in new study

Teens using steroids may be driven by high performance pressure in sports and a muscular body ideal projected by the media, according to a new study of 2,800 Minnesota teens; steroid use was found to be equally common among athletes and non-athletes.

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According to findings published Nov. 19, in the journal Pediatrics, Asian students were three to four times more likely to have used steroids in the past year than white students. Most Asians in the study were Hmong, lead researcher Marla Eisenberg from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and her colleagues noted.

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Their study shows higher adolescent use of steroids and other muscle-boosting substances than most other recent research and "is cause for concern," according to the researchers. But it's not clear whether the findings would apply to an area outside of the Twin Cities, or among wealthier students, they noted.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Steroids are prescribed legally to treat conditions involving hormone deficiency or muscle loss, but when they're used for non-medical purposes, it's typically at much higher doses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In those cases, steroids can cause mood swings - sometimes known as roid rage - and for adolescents, stunted growth and accelerated puberty.

Anabolic steroids have become pervasive in professional sports, including baseball, football and boxing. (Another example of performance-enhancing drug use is "blood doping" with erythropoietin or EPO, which is behind the Lance Armstrong cycling controversy that caused him to be stripped of his Tour de France titles last month.)

Experts have worried that the drive to get ahead of competitors at any cost could trickle down to college and high school athletes, as well.

Dr. Goldberg, co-developer of the ATLAS and ATHENA programs to prevent steroid and other substance use on high school teams, said it's important to give teens healthier alternatives to build muscle.

"I would stay away from all supplements, because you don't know what's in them," Goldberg told Reuters Health.

"What's important is to teach kids how to eat correctly," he said. Goldberg said getting enough protein through food, eating breakfast and avoiding muscle toxins like alcohol and marijuana can all help young athletes get stronger without shakes or supplements.

Eisenberg's team did not find clustering of steroid use and other muscle-enhancing behaviors within particular schools.

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"Rather than being driven by a particular school sports team coach or other features of a school's social landscape, this diffusion suggests that muscle-enhancing behaviors are widespread and influenced by factors beyond school, likely encompassing social and cultural variables such as media messages and social norms of behavior more broadly," the researchers wrote.

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