It is always tragic when a young adult dies prematurely. It is especially heart-rending when the individual was so well-liked by his family and friends and seemed to have much to offer the world. People want to make sense of such tragedies and they often look for some external factor to blame. Anabolic steroids can became an easy villain to blame.
This was the case with Daniel Murray. The 24-year old nursing student at Plymouth University was discovered by his flatmate in front of his computer sitting motionless with his head tilted backwards. He was pronounced dead at the scene after an apparent heart attack on February 6, 2015.
Andrew Cox, the assistant coroner for the County of Cornwall, delivered an open verdict in the Murray case. An open verdict means that the cause of death could not be determined and doubt remains as to how the deceased came to their death.
However, even though Cox was unable to determine the cause of death, he could help himself by suggesting anabolic steroids as the culprit.
“The finger of suspicion is that anabolic steroid use has triggered this,” Cox said. “However, without a urine sample and because literature is ambiguous about the time it takes for anabolic steroids to give cardiac complications, the evidence does not disclose fully the cause.”
Cox asserted that the scientific literature is ambiguous. However, the scientific evidence suggesting that a few weeks of steroid use could lead to a heart is practically non-existent. Anabolic steroids can cause short-term and transient fluctuations in blood lipid measurements. But the literature generally indicates that the adverse cardiovascular complications are the result of long-term steroid use after the course of many years.
The coroner’s decision to selectively single out steroids as a culprit is telling. Murray’s history of a significant weight loss in the months preceding his death could arguably have been a much more likely culprit. And of course, the most likely explanation as to the cause of death would have been some pre-existing or congenital heart defect.
Consultant pathologist Christina McCormick believed the most likely causes of death were either an “intrinsic heart condition that was inherited” or the use of drugs that caused the “arteries to spasm”.Stimulant drugs like amphetamines and cocaine are the types of drugs most likely to cause acute death from a heart attack. Steroids are not known to do this.
The facts surrounding Murray’s death involved the loss of significant amount of weight in the months preceding his untimely demise. Murray’s girlfriend reported that he started taking oral anabolic steroids for the first time shortly after Christmas 2014. Six weeks later, Murray was dead.
The type of oral steroid consumed by Murray was not disclosed. The most popular oral steroids are Anadrol (oxymetholone), Anavar (oxandrolone), Dianabol (methandienone) and Winstrol (stanozolol). The oral steroids most commonly used for weight loss are Anavar and Winstrol. Oral steroids generally have the greatest adverse impact on blood lipids as well. Nonetheless, a six-week cycle of steroids is unlikely to have caused a heart attack in the absence of a pre-existing heart condition.
At best, steroids could have been one of many triggers and an insignificant one at that. A dramatic weight loss and the increased amount of physical activity would likely have had a greater impact on an individual with an inherited heart abnormality than steroids.
It is easier to demonize the much-maligned muscle-building drugs than it is to demonize the socially-accepted goals of weight loss and physical activity.
Rather than seeking to single out steroids to blame, it would be better to encourage and promote medical supervision and health monitoring of individuals engaged in significant weight loss programs, intense physical activity and/or the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Pre-existing and congenital heart conditions are rare but it is never a bad idea to see your doctor before engaging in an intense exercise program.
Plymouth Herald. (July 16, 2015). Anabolic steroids may have killed Plymouth student, 24, who had a heart attack. Retrieved from http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Anabolic-steroids-killed-Plymouth-student-24/story-26914910-detail/story.html