Written by Jose Antonio, MD
05 October 2006


Anabolic Edge 

By Jose Antonio, PhD


The Brain: Protection and Perception


Steroids Protect Brain

As science uncovers more and more about our cholesterol-derived hormones (i.e., steroids), the more fascinating the story becomes. In a study of our four-legged rodent pals, scientists examined the role of vitamins and steroids on ethanol toxicity. Certainly, drinking too much is nothing to laugh at, yet in reality we know there are boneheaded college kids out there having six  drinks too many. Having too much enthanol in your blood may cause oxidative stress. This study compared the effects of antioxidant vitamins (C and E in combination) and steroids (testosterone and nandrolone, separately) on the toxicity of ethanol in rats. Animals were placed into the following groups: control, ethanol, testosterone, ethanol + testosterone, ethanol + nandrolone, ethanol + vitamins. Alcohol was given daily at a dose of five grams per kilogram of bodyweight (i.e., 350 grams of alcohol for a 70-kilogram, or 154-pound, person; or put another way, about 2,450 kcals of alcohol equivalent for a human!).

On the 27th day of the study, the animals were euthanized and tissue samples were taken. These samples underwent histological examination. Results showed a protective effect of antioxidants on hepatic and cerebellar injury caused by chronic ethanol intake. And get this: Anabolic steroids protected the central nervous tissue especially, against the toxicity of alcohol. If you slept in biology class, the central nervous system is your brain and spinal cord. Thus, according to the authors, both antioxidant vitamins and anabolic steroids protect against ethanol-induced toxicity. However, this effect is tissue- specific.2 Now, that doesn't mean you should load up on Deca prior to a drinking binge. Remember, all that ethanol is just empty calories and doesn't exactly help your training. Conversely, it's rather fascinating that anabolic steroids protect your brain from alcohol toxicity. Who woulda thunk?



Ever wonder how most folks view bodybuilders and fitness crazies?  Well, one study looked at exactly this. Scientists had a group of college kids rate hypermuscular female bodybuilders and the men who were romantically involved with them on measures of perceived gender traits, personality traits, social behaviors and heterosexual behaviors.  In other words, they didn't actually know these folks, so it was just their perception. And as you know, perception is reality for many.  These students perceived hypermuscular women, as compared to the average woman, as having more masculine and fewer feminine interests, less likely to be good mothers and less intelligent, less socially popular and less attractive. But on the good side, the students also perceived them as being less likely to engage in socially deviant behaviors or to be sexually manipulative, as well as more likely to be extroverted, conscientious and open to new experiences, than the average woman. The students perceived men who are romantically involved with hypermuscular women as having stronger masculine traits, interests and identities than the average man.1 So, basically, if you're a guy with a hot chick with muscles, it's good! But if you're the chick with raging delts and forearm muscles that would make Popeye proud, it's more of a mixed bag.


Your Body Tells You What You Need

Have you ever had those days when your body seems to tell you that you need to eat more protein? Or, for that matter, carbs or fat? It's as if there's an internal signal in your noggin telling you to eat specific foods. Well, now there's science to back up this phenomenon. Scientists reported a series of five studies of feeding behavior in rats. Rats were fed low-protein diets for five to seven days and then exposed to diets with and without essential amino acids.  If you recall, you need the essential amino acids in your diet; in humans, these include phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, lysine and leucine. Anyhow, the scientists found that rats consistently demonstrated recognition of essential amino acid deficiency within the first meal by a significant reduction in first meal duration, rejecting the deficient diets after just 12 to 16 minutes after exposure. According to the investigators, this is the first report of a rapid effect of amino acid-deficient diets without the confounding effects of dietary novelty.3 Now, imagine that. It's not like the little rat brains looked at the food labels of rat chow and read that there wasn't enough essential aminos. Their bodies basically told them there wasn't enough. Pretty amazing, if you ask me. Now the question is: Is there a similar physiological mechanism responsible for other food needs or cravings?3


Eat Your Fruits and Veggies for a Better Body

Anthocyanins are naturally occurring compounds that give color to fruit, vegetables and plants. The derivation of anthocyanin is from two Greek words meaning plant and blue. Anthocyanins are the pigments that make blueberries blue, raspberries red, etc. and there's overwhelming evidence they have high antioxidant activity. There are well over 300 anthocyanins and scientists are still discovering new ones each day. Well, what's the big deal about these colored pigments? Glad you asked. In a recent double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, scientists looked at the effect of blackcurrant anthocyanin (BCA) intake on peripheral circulation; they found that forearm blood flow increased significantly two hours after BCA ingestion. The scientists concluded that intake of BCA may improve shoulder stiffness caused by typing work by increasing peripheral blood flow and reducing muscle fatigue.4

Here's my take. Clearly, your body can take advantage of increased blood flow, particularly if you have the right nutrients present in your system.  What if you were to consume the essential amino acids (EAAs) with blackcurrant anthocyanin prior to exercise? Would the combination of exercise plus BCA further augment blood flow? And would this augmentation make it "easier" for your muscle cells to take up EAAs, thus causing greater protein turnover and anabolism? Who knows. Perhaps BCA is better than all the so-called nitric oxide products on the market when it comes to increasing local circulation. Even more exciting, other anthocyanins may actually help you lose body fat! One group stated that "Anthocyanins as a functional food factor... may have benefits for the prevention of obesity and diabetes."5 Mmm... I think these pigments may be the new hot thing in sports nutrition.


Jose Antonio, PhD, CSCS, is the CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (http://www.sportsnutritionsociety.org/) and the Chief Science Officer of Javalution (http://www.javalution.com/).



1.         Forbes GB, Adams-Curtis LE, Holmgren KM, White KB. Perceptions of the social and personal characteristics of hypermuscular women and of the men who love them. J Soc Psychol, Oct 2004;144(5):487-506.

2.         Celec P, Jani P, Smrekova L, et al. Effects of anabolic steroids and antioxidant vitamins on ethanol-induced tissue injury. Life Sci, Dec 12 2003;74(4):419-434.

3.         Koehnle TJ, Russell MC, Gietzen DW. Rats rapidly reject diets deficient in essential amino acids. J Nutr, Jul 2003;133(7):2331-2335.

4.         Matsumoto H, Takenami E, Iwasaki-Kurashige K, Osada T, Katsumura T, Hamaoka T. Effects of blackcurrant anthocyanin intake on peripheral muscle circulation during typing work in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol, Dec 17 2004.

5.         Tsuda T, Horio F, Uchida K, Aoki H, Osawa T. Dietary cyanidin 3-O-beta-D-glucoside-rich purple corn color prevents obesity and ameliorates hyperglycemia in mice. J Nutr, Jul 2003;133(7):2125-2130.