Nandrolone is an anabolic steroid, one of the class of muscle-building chemicals often employed by athletes to improve their strength and durability. Steroids are substances composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules, constructed in rings. Nandrolone occurs naturally in the human body in extremely minute quantities. It has a chemical composition that is very similar to testosterone, the male hormone, which is also a steroid and essential to the growth and development of the male body. Nandrolone is also a similar composition to that of progesterone, the equivalent female hormone. For these reasons, nandrolone has been valued as a training aid since it was first developed.

The application of anabolic steroids to sports was discovered by accident in the 1930s; steroids became the subject of systematic testing by Russian and Eastern Bloc sports scientists in the 1950s when weightlifters were provided the substances in controlled circumstances and significant performance gains were measured. Nandrolone was an anabolic steroid created in the course of the experimentation that arose in the 1960s regarding general steroid use. Nandrolone became popular in the 1980s as a preferred steroid choice as it was perceived as having fewer side effects than other anabolic steroids, particularly those of increased growth of body hair and sudden, unpredictable outbursts. As with all other steroids, nandralone was proven to reduce fatigue, and increase the rate at which muscles and overall strength could be developed while permitting athletes to train harder.

Nandrolone is obtained through injection. It is marketed in North America under the trade name Winstrol; in England and Europe, it is marketed as Deca-Durabolin.

Although anabolic steroids were established as a performance-enhancing drug in the late 1960s, the capacity of sports science to provide athletes with them far exceeded the ability of sports regulatory agencies, such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to police their usage. The IOC declared anabolic steroids illegal for all Olympic competitions in 1976, but effective and scientifically verifiable steroid testing methods did not exist until the early 1980s. As science progressed in its ability to detect steroids, in most cases through the presence of trace evidence known as metabolites detected in urine samples, that progress was a defined compound at one time. The ability to detect one variety of steroids was not proof of the detection of a compound of similar chemical composition. The IOC did not have access to reliable testing for nandrolone until the late 1980s.

Once the science was available, the testing for nandrolone was further complicated by the fact that nandrolone is a naturally occurring substance in the body. The test procedures would be required to take into account this fact; for this reason, the legal limit of nandrolone permitted in the body was fixed at 2 mcg per ml of urine. It was established through significant rounds of scientific testing that, for athletes who consumed nandrolone, they would be expected to produce metabolites excreted in urine at levels 100 times the natural level of nandrolone present in the body.

In the 1990s, world champion sprinters Linford Christie of Great Britain and Merlene Ottey of Jamaica were the subject of positive tests for nandrolone, as was Czech tennis player Petr Korda. In 2006, National Hockey League player Brian Berard tested positive for this steroid as well. The involvement of these high profile athletes in nandrolone use is a testament to its popularity and perceived usefulness as a training supplement.

Nandrolone positive tests have attracted further controversy from the scientific perspective, as further study has been directed to the issue of whether intense exercise, combined with a high protein diet and the use of the supplement creatine, is capable of increasing the natural production of nandrolone within the body, so as to generate a false-positive steroid test. The most common defenses proffered by athletes in cases of a positive nandrolone test have been either that the positive test was due to a dietary supplement that was unwittingly consumed by the athlete that contained nandrolone, or that the body naturally produced nandrolone in the course of the processing of the proteins contained in the diet or supplement.

As with every other anabolic steroid, there are proven long-term health risks associated with the use of nandrolone. In the short term, nandrolone will usually stimulate the production of acne on different parts of the body. All steroids will tend to make the user more edgy and irritable, prone to mood changes, and short tempered; the extent of this side effect is variable. In the medium term, the body of a male nandrolone user will undergo physiological changes that may include the development of breasts, as well as reduced sexual drive and ability. For female users, an interruption or cessation of the regular menstrual cycle is a common consequence of all forms of steroid use.

The most dangerous consequences of steroid use are long term. Because nandrolone and other anabolic steroids mimic the effect of testosterone in the body, as well as stimulating its release, the excess quantities of the hormone must be broken down; this is the function of the liver, the organ primarily responsible for cleansing and cleaning functions in the body. An increased risk of the development of liver tumors is a well-established consequence of steroid use.

The other serious long-term effects of nandrolone usage include a generalized greater risk of cancer, as well as the potential expansion of the heart muscle, leading to cardiac arrest.

SEE ALSO Anabolic steroids; Creatine supplementation; Supplement contamination.