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The use of steroids improves athletic performance, increases lean body mass and muscle size.
Athletes and bodybuilders using steroids must know about elaborate test schemes for steroid abuse. Due to improvement of testing methods, they must consider this fact while taking any performance-enhancing substances. Many users have a coach who helps coordinate the drugs they take, their amount, the schedule as well as breaks and supplements to eliminate possible side effects.
As non-athlete weightlifters prefer to use a bulk of anabolic steroids, occasional steroid use by professional or Olympic athlete to improve physical performance or cheat in competition can destroy the career and leads to official bans and sanctions. The rules are even getting stricter year after year. And tests to detect the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are becoming more sensitive.
Nails and hair have several advantages over blood and urine and are considered the perfect material for testing because they are highly stable, simple to collect, easy to ship and store. Also, they have a longer detection window (from months to years). Moreover, collecting them does not require use of invasive methods.
At the same time hair and nails have relatively low concentrations of steroids present and it requires more sensitive detection and proper sample preparation.
What makes hair and nail so valuable for testing? The answer is in their composition. Fingernails and hair are made up of keratin. As they grow, substances can pass from the blood vessels into keratin fibers where they become trapped.
If we compare hair and nails, it is obvious that the latter ones are much thicker, up to four times, than the regular strand of hair and it means that nails capture more of a substance than hair can.
Biomarkers get locked in keratin fibers along the entire length of hair or nails and can be detected up to 3-6 months after steroid abuse. Athletes must also know that many PEDs can be detected in nails or hair just after 3 to 6 weeks.
The time of detection depends on the period during which the steroids were used, the type of substance, its amount and personal metabolism.
As these materials are similar, in most cases hair is more preferable. But there are some cases when nail testing is the only alternative to detect steroids abuse. It can happen in such instances:
The studies report the detection of steroids in nails and hair using different techniques. They are the following:
The first one is known as GC-EI-MS or gas chromatography electron ionization mass spectrometry. It is the method where substances in the sample are first separated by gas chromatography before being ionized by electrons which have emitted from a glowing filament and accelerated through an electric field. The ions are then characterized according to mass-to-charge ration and relative abundance.
The second technique is LC-UV that is Liquid chromatography combined with ultraviolet detection. Some experts claim it has some drawbacks and unsuitable for the detection of steroids in nails.
It is liquid chromatography-electrospray mass spectrometry is a specific and highly sensitive method often used to detect steroids.
Besides, nail and hair testing for steroid abuse has one more peculiarity. As these materials have low concentration of substances, it is necessary to use a relatively high amount of sample (about 100 mg). Also, specific sample preparation procedure is applied. It consists of washing the sample with methanol, alkaline digestion, followed by liquid-liquid-extraction (LLE) and flophemesyl-TMS derivatization.
To conclude, one need to know that these tests are still not approved or used commonly. As the procedure is not quite easy it still needs more researching and improving. According to findings, not all steroids can be detected. Thus, testosterone can be detected in all samples in athletes who took steroids during the last 6 months, but testosterone propionate cannot be detected in some cases as the more sensitivity is required.