Detection of Anabolic Steroids in Head Hair

Look for the “Bald Look” to be more than a fashion statement in the near future!

Title: Detection of anabolic steroids in head hair.

Researchers: Deng XS, Kurosu A, Pounder DJ

Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Dundee, Royal Infirmary, Scotland.

Source: J Forensic Sci 1999 Mar;44(2):343-6

Summary/Abstract: Scientists in Scotland have developed a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry method for detection and quantification of anabolic steroids in head hair. Following alkaline digestion and solid-phase extraction, the MO-TMS derivatives gave a specific fragmentation pattern with EI ionization. For stanozolol, the TMS-HFBA derivative showed several diagnostic ions. For androstanolone, mestanolone (methylandrostanolone), and oxymetholone two chromatographic peaks for cis and trans isomers of derivatives were seen. Recoveries were 35 to 45% for androstanolone, oxymetholone, chlorotestosterone-acetate, dehydromethyltestosterone, dehydrotestosterone, fluoxymesterone, mestanolone, methyltestosterone, and nandrolone; 52% for mesterolone, trenbolone; 65% for bolasterone; 24% for methenolone and 17% for stanozolol. Limits of detection were 0.002 to 0.05 ng/mg and of quantitation were 0.02 to 0.1 ng/mg. Seven white male steroid abusers provided head hair samples (10 to 63 mg) and urine. In the hair samples, methyltestosterone was detected in two (confirmed in urine); nandrolone in two (also confirmed in urine); dehydromethyltestosterone in four (but not found in urine); and clenbuterol in one (but not in urine). Oxymethalone was found in urine in one, but not in the hair. One abuser had high levels of testosterone: 0.15 ng/mg hair, and 1190 ng/mL urine. These researchers conclude that head hair analysis has considerable potential for the detection and monitoring of steroid abuse.

Discussion: When seeking to find out what chemicals are present in a sample (e.g., hair), you have to be able to effectively separate all the different substances it is made of. Usually this is done on the basis of differences in solubility, using fractional crystallization, or by differences in volatility, using distillation, of the different substances it contains.

Chromatography is the most widely used technique used in chemistry to separate substances. It can be used on liquid or gas solutions. It was originally used about 90 years ago to separate different color pigments in plants, hence the root “chroma” which is Greek for “color”. Once a solution or gas is produced of the desired sample, the different chemicals in the sample will have different absorption characteristics in a solid or liquid phase medium. You may have heard or read the term “HPLC” when talking about testing the purity of supplements. HPLC refers to high-pressure liquid chromatography. With HPLC solutions are pumped through a column under very high pressure (3000/in2 or more). In this case researchers are using gas chromatography (GC). It is the same method used to test emissions on cars.

Mass spectrometry is another commonly used method of separating atomic sized particles in a gas based on weight. In mass spectrometry, a beam of gaseous ions is deflected in a magnetic field toward a collector plate. Lighter ions are deflected more than heavy ones. By comparing the accelerating voltages required to deflect the two ions to the same point on the collector plate, it is possible to determine the relative masses of the ions.

I’m sure most of you aren’t as interested in the technology as you are in the consequences of using it in drug testing. In this case researchers are using hair to determine what anabolics are or were taken.

Each hair on your body consists of a shaft and a root. The shaft consists of three principle parts. The inner medulla is composed of polyhedral cells containing granules of eleidin and air spaces. The middle cortex forms the major part of the shaft and consists of elongated cells that contain pigment granules in dark hair but mostly air in white hair. The cuticle of the hair, the outermost layer, consists of a single layer of thin, flat, scalelike cells that are most heavily keratinized.

It is these cells that contain metabolites of whatever anabolics you have been taking. The thing about hair is that it provides the investigator with a rather long history of the subjects drug use. Much longer than urine or blood. This is not the kind of test that can be fooled with masking agents. The only real way to beat this test at present is to remove all traces of hair from your body. Right now this study is only an indication of what can be done. It will be some time before this kind of testing would be adopted by major sporting organizations, if ever.

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