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Insulin Abuse Can Lead to Coma, Death

Aug. 4, 2003 -- It's undetectable. It just might boost athletic performance. And it just might kill.

Insulin abuse is the latest deadly trend. Bodybuilders use it -- often in combination with steroids -- to pump their muscles full of staying power. It's estimated that one in four steroid abusers also take insulin.

Insulin is a lifesaver for people with diabetes. But it can put a normal person into a coma. Abusers take insulin and then gobble sugary foods and sweet drinks. The insulin helps feed muscles during intense exercise, prevents muscle breakdown, and helps performance. The International Olympic Committee bans insulin. However, it's impossible to detect. Cheaters can take it just before an athletic competition and not get caught.

Not unless something goes wrong. And there's a lot of room for error. A case in point appears in the August issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

P.J. Evans and R.M. Lynch work in the emergency room at Hull Royal Infirmary in England. They report the case of a 31-year-old man brought in after being found unconscious at home. He remained in a coma until the doctors realized his blood sugar had crashed. Fortunately, he'd arrived in time for intravenous sugar to save his life.

The man later admitted to the doctors that he took insulin three times a week -- and also used steroids.

Evens and Lynch call insulin "a potentially lethal drug."

"[Insulin abuse] has serious consequences should things go wrong, particularly as it is usually used in secret without even the knowledge of loved ones," they write. "This puts the user at risk of developing [very low blood sugar] for prolonged periods away from possible medical assistance potentially resulting in coma and death."

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, August 2003.

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