Doping in sport: effects, harm and misconceptions

Intern Med J. 2015 Mar;45(3):239-48. doi: 10.1111/imj.12629.


Doping in sport is a widespread problem not just among elite athletes, but even more so in recreational sports. In scientific literature, major emphasis is placed on doping detection, whereas detrimental effects of doping agents on athletes' health are seldom discussed. Androgenic anabolic steroids are well known for their positive effects on muscle mass and strength. Human growth hormone also increases muscle mass, although the majority of that is an increase in extracellular fluid and not the functional muscle mass. In recreational athletes, growth hormone does not have major effect on muscle strength, power or aerobic capacity, but stimulates anaerobic exercise capacity. Erythropoietin administration increases oxygen-carrying capacity of blood improving endurance measures, whereas systemic administration of beta-adrenergic agonists may have positive effect on sprint capacity, and beta-adrenergic antagonists reduce muscle tremor. Thus, there are certain drugs that can improve selective aspects of physical performance. However, most of the doping agents exert serious side-effects, especially when used in combination, at high doses and for a long duration. The extent of long-term health consequences is difficult to predict, but likely to be substantial, especially when gene doping is considered. This review summarises the main groups of doping agents used by athletes, with the main focus on their effects on athletic performance and adverse effects.

Keywords: androgen; exercise capacity; fat mass; growth hormone; lean body mass; side-effect.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anabolic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anabolic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Androgens / administration & dosage
  • Androgens / adverse effects*
  • Athletes*
  • Body Composition / drug effects
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Doping in Sports / methods
  • Doping in Sports / trends*
  • Human Growth Hormone / administration & dosage
  • Human Growth Hormone / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Androgens
  • Human Growth Hormone