The Race for Testosterone
Pro baseball player Melky Cabrera was suspended last week for “cheating.” His offense? He tested positive for a high level of testosterone.
Days later, Bartolo Colon of the Oakland A’s surfaced as the latest player to get caught using Performance Enhancing drugs. Same offense (high testosterone), same punishment.
Among the many debates sparked by these two events, one seems to be about the comparison to players in the good ol’ days™. The argument says that the players of the past didn’t need performance enhancing drugs, and thus they were better.
What might interest the proponent of this argument is the level of testosterone of men in the past compared to the men of this modern age. According to many sources, testosterone levels have declined significantly over a number of decades:
The normal range of testosterone is reported as 350- 1200ng/dl. Studies in the 1940′s showed the average testosterone level to be at 700 ng/dl, 300 ng/dl higher than for men today. In the past, a drop in testosterone levels to 250 ng/dl was rarely reported before men were 80 years of age. Yet today, it is not an uncommon value for middle aged men!
A new study has found a “substantial” drop in U.S. men’s testosterone levels since the 1980s, but the reasons for the decline remain unclear. This trend also does not appear to be related to age.
The average levels of the male hormone dropped by 1 percent a year, Dr. Thomas Travison and colleagues from the New England Research Institutes in Watertown, Massachusetts, found. This means that, for example, a 65-year-old man in 2002 would have testosterone levels 15 percent lower than those of a 65-year-old in 1987. This also means that a greater proportion of men in 2002 would have had below-normal testosterone levels than in 1987.
Conclusions like this make you wonder: Are these suspended players aiming to cheat, or are they trying to return to the level playing field of the past players? Are they aware of the testosterone deficiency upon modern men?
Obviously we don’t have the test results, or the numbers to prove anything. The most relevant yet unanswered question is the cause of the significant drop in testosterone levels. The answer could serve to have larger implications on masculinity, or it could just be a simple explanation that we should have known all along.
In the meantime, we’ll have to deal with men trying to take this issue into their own veins.