by Mike Arnold
If one were to ask the question “what is the biggest advancement in the world of PED’s over the last 10-15 years?” the answer would undoubtedly be peptides. A general term, the word “peptide” can be used to refer to a vast number of compounds spanning multiple different categories of drugs, many of which have nothing to do with any aspect of the bodybuilding experience. Of those that do, there are still several different classes of peptides which have proven useful. One of the most valuable, especially for older lifters, are the “healing” peptides. This class of drugs, which includes compounds such as Thymosin Beta 4 (TB-500) and BPC-157, have significant restorative properties, which can help heal and repair various tissues in the body.
BPC-157 is particularly interesting. This unique peptide, derived from human gastric juices, has numerous potential applications which may be of benefit to the older bodybuilder. If injured, the benefits are obvious, as this peptide has been shown to heal injured muscles and even help re-attach tendon to muscle and bone. For those who want to avoid injury or whose training may be compromised due to nagging aches and pains (common in older guys), BPC-157 is a great choice due to its ability to strengthen and repair connective tissue (i.e. tendons and ligaments). Anecdotal reports are impressive, with many lifters claiming that this drug was able to quickly eliminate or significantly diminish long-term soft tissues injuries. Although not necessarily directly applicable to the goals of a bodybuilder, it has also been shown to exhibit a protective effect on various organs and assist in the healing/prevention of stomach ulcers. Unlike many drugs, which require indefinite treatment in order to continue experiencing their positive effects, BPC-157’s effects are permanent. Cycles of 4-6 weeks are usually all that is required to obtain significant, long-term benefits.
Another healing peptide of note, TB-500 (Thymosin Beta 4) has been used in horse racing for decades. Possessing many of the same benefits as BPC-157, TB-500 has been shown to promote healing of connective tissue, reduce inflammation, and even improve performance by enhancing recovery and endurance. However, unlike BPC-157, a maintenance dose is required to continue receiving maximum benefits. Regardless, both drugs are viable options for the treatment of bodybuilding related injuries/deterioration.
Of course, no discussion on this subject would be complete without mentioning GH peptides. On the market for about 10 years now, this particular class of peptides is one of the most popular and for good reason—they can elevate growth hormone and IGF-1 levels comparable to moderate doses of GH; typically at a fraction of the cost. Of all the GH peptides currently available, CJC-1295 DAC appears to bear the closest resemblance to exogenous growth hormone, as it results in a sustained, although moderate elevation in GH levels. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have several GHRH & GHRP combinations which are capable of inducing extreme, although somewhat short-lived elevations in growth hormone levels.
Due to differing pharmacokinetic profiles between the various peptide analogs, there is considerable dispute regarding not only the best way to use these drugs, but which of them are the most effective. In my opinion, we are still a long way off from coming to any concrete conclusions, but one thing is certain. With such a large percentage of UGL growth hormone being fake or severely under-dosed, many have become increasingly disillusioned with this corner of the marketplace, instead choosing to place their trust in GH peptides. In many cases, this may not be a bad idea.
In my opinion, pharm-grade GH is still the best option when financially feasible, but when it comes to comparing GH peptides and UGL GH, I have found GH peptides to be much more reliable. This does not necessarily mean better, just more reliable, as both the quality and dosing range UGL GH can vary tremendously. In my experience, both high-dose CJC-1295 DAC and specific GHRH & GHRP combinations seem to be capable of mimicking moderate dose pharm-grade GH, but beyond that, GH peptides seem to be unable to compete. I also acknowledge that opinions vary significantly on this matter, but until someone has used both pharm-grade GH and the various GH peptides (lab verified for purity & potency) at multiple dosing ranges, any opinion they provide on the matter should be taken with a grain of salt.
Getting back to AAS, I wanted to take a minute to touch on the role of personal response when it comes to one’s steroid program. As mentioned in Part #1, methylated AAS tend to problematic for basically everyone in terms of lipid health, but when it comes to the non-methyls, personal response can vary widely. Quite simply, you need to find those compounds and dosing ranges which allow you to maintain normal blood pressure, lipid values, and hematocrit. This will likely take quite a bit of personal experimentation, but the end result is well worth it. There are no hard and fast rules here. What works for one may not work for another.
Eventually, you may find that some compounds just aren’t compatible with your own individual physiology, while other AAS might not give you any problems until you reach the higher dosing ranges. However, as a general rule, the higher the dose climbs, the more likely you are to start experiencing issues in one or more of these areas. For this reason, high doses are generally not recommended for older bodybuilders.
One steroid which has proven cardiovascular health benefits is testosterone. At this point, the research is clear. Those with below normal levels of testosterone are more likely to die from heart attack and stroke compared to those with high-normal levels of testosterone. If there was ever any solid justification for using steroids, this is it. Keep in mind, once testosterone levels rise into the supraphysiological range, the individual will begin to experience adverse fluctuations in cardiovascular health markers. Still, testosterone is one of the safest, if not the safest steroid a bodybuilder can use in terms of cardiovascular health. This stands true even when comparing testosterone against other steroids at supraphysiological dosing ranges.
It wasn’t too long ago that nandrolone was considered a fairly “safe” AAS, especially in terms of cardiovascular health. We now know better. In one recent study, nandrolone was shown to be 11X more damaging to the blood vessels than testosterone; a revelation that shouldn’t go ignored, at least among those who care about this aspect of their health. This isn’t the only bit of nandrolone bioscience to be quashed in recent years. For decades, bodybuilders believed nandrolone to impart some type of healing effect on connective tissue, helping to alleviate sore joints and assist the bodybuilder is continuing with hard and heavy training.
Unfortunately, multiple recent studies have shown just the opposite—that nandrolone damages connective tissue, while also slowing its healing rate from injuries. For a drug that was once held up as one of the mildest in terms of health risk, these recent discoveries represent not only a fall from grace, but they clearly illustrate just how inept bodybuilders have been at detecting the true effects of these drugs on the body. Lucky for us, medical science has been slowly unveiling the true health risks associated with these drugs, while simultaneously revealing new methods of preventing/minimizing their harmful side effects.
One category of drugs that may be of interest to older bodybuilders are S.A.R.M’s. Originally developed as a way to obtain the anabolic benefits of AAS without the negative side effects typically associated with their use, this class of drugs appears to be the perfect candidate for older bodybuilders. However, with only a few drugs having been developed since the concept came to fruition, this class of drugs is still in its infancy. At this point, Ostarine and LGD-4033 are the only noteworthy options; providing muscle building benefits on par with some of the weaker AAS.
While their relatively mild myotropic effects might make them less than ideal as stand-alone anabolics in those looking for build/maintain significant amounts of muscle mass, they make great additions to traditional muscle building stacks, allowing the lifter to reduce his dose of conventional anabolics without a decline in performance-appearance. For less serious lifters, they may be all that is needed to achieve the “look” one desires.
I briefly mentioned estrogen in Part #1, but would like to talk about it a little bit more in depth, as it relates to a bodybuilder’s health. Like many of the body’s hormones, estrogen is a double-edged sword in that it can both hurt and harm cardiovascular health, depending on how much or little of it we have flowing through our veins. Studies conducted within the last decade have revealed that men with even slightly elevated estrogen levels (outside of the upper-range of normal) had a much greater incidence of coronary artery disease, while doubling the risk of stroke. Several other previous and subsequent studies have confirmed these finding.
At the same time, below normal levels of estrogen also contribute to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, as well as osteoporosis. The key to maintaining a healthy estrogen level is balance. You want a normal estrogen level, not elevated or deficient levels. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed showed that men with chronic heart failure were 117% more likely to die from heart attack if their estrogen levels were above the normal range, compared to those men with an estrogen reading of 21.80-30.11 pg/ml (considered ideal according to the Life Extension group). Even worse, those with below normal estrogen levels were a full 333% more likely to die compared to those with ideal levels.
Based on these study results, estrogen management appears to be critical in maintaining cardiovascular health—something few bodybuilders take the time to do. Sure, most bodybuilder’s these days recognize the importance of using an aromatase inhibitor in conjunction aromatizable AAS, but this is done primarily to prevent estrogen induced cosmetic side effects, such as gynecomastia, water retention, etc. A much smaller percentage of men actually take the time to make sure their estrogen levels are maintained within an optimal range specifically for the purpose of cardiovascular health.
Maintaining estrogen levels within the above mentioned range is rarely as simple as getting a single blood test. This may be possible true for those who always run the same cycle, but for those who are constantly changing both compounds and dosages, they will need to do a little more work. This is because the rate of aromatization can vary significantly based on both the dosage and compound used. The best way to protect yourself is to get bloodwork regularly, so that you can get a good idea of how your body responds to the different cycles you run. Once you have that information, achieving an ideal estrogen reading becomes a matter of titrating one’s dose upward or downward based on blood levels.
What about insulin? I wish I had good news for you here, but there is not much of it to give. Higher insulin levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, period. Now, this doesn’t mean insulin cannot be used as part of a bodybuilder’s program, but it does mean that the indiscriminate use of this drug is likely to lead to problems. Insulin use needs to be looked at within the context of total insulin exposure. In a nutshell, the more you can improve your insulin sensitivity, the better off you will be, as increased insulin sensitivity means reduced production of pancreatic insulin and lower overall insulin levels. Therefore, if exogenous insulin is used sparingly (such as around workouts only), total insulin exposure will still remain low. However, exogenous insulin usage, especially heavy use in the face of insulin resistance, is a recipe for cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of metabolic health disorders, including diabetes.
So far, we’ve talked about how to minimize potential problems in multiple areas of our health through avoidance, prudence, and selectivity, but what about preventative supplementation? These days, knowing the risks involved in PED use, a bodybuilder would be foolish to pass up on the benefits this category of supplementation has to offer. Just about every health issue a bodybuilder could possibly encounter can be effectively treated with the right products, significantly reducing the bodybuilder’s chances of developing more serious health issues.
Perhaps the most valuable are those which help minimize the injurious affects of PED’s on the cardiovascular system. Clinical research has demonstrated the ability of certain OTC compounds to help lower blood pressure, improve the lipid profile, reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots, and even reverse arteriosclerosis. However, with such a large number of products claiming to provide these benefits, it can be difficult to distinguish between those that are worth your money and those that aren’t. Some of the most effective are: Vitamin K2, pomegranate extract, resveratrol, fish oil, instant release niacin, and curcumin, while supplements such as Hawthorne and CoQ10 have been shown to reduce blood pressure.
In some cases, supplements such as these may be required for PED users to keep cardiovascular health markers within the normal range. This is especially true for those bodybuilders who continue to engage in “hardcore” PED use into middle-age. In these cases, I consider preventative supplementation mandatory. Since cardiovascular damage is accumulative, smart bodybuilders will not wait until they are older to begin implementing these protective measures, but will begin doing so at the outset of PED use. If one decides to wait until they are older, there is a strong likelihood that significant damage will have already taken place, making supplementation more a matter of “damage control” rather than damage prevention. Therefore, the wisest course of action is to begin using preventative supplementation before one has a problem, as this will provide the best defense against PED-related cardiovascular disease and its associated health risks (i.e. heart attack/stroke).
Although we have covered only a portion of the health problems that older bodybuilders should be aware of, I am hopeful that the information presented in this article might motivate some to take a more responsible approach to their PED use. Rarely are these kinds of health problems the result of acute damage. Rather, they are usually the result of years, if not decades of accumulative damage—damage that could have been prevented, or at least minimized if a wiser course of action had been taken earlier in life. I am not even telling younger guys they need to be less “hardcore” (although it would certainly be a good idea in terms of health), but I am asking all bodybuilders to be a bit more conscientious when it comes to their own well-being, especially as they age. Many of the steps a bodybuilder can take to protect himself has no bearing on his ultimate physical development, making their implementation more a matter of personal responsibility than compromise. The bottom line is that the more you do and the earlier you do it, the better off you will be in the long-run.