Testing positive for testosterone, French Juventus Turin player Paul Pogba was provisionally suspended on Monday. Hormone of male sexuality and fertility, it is a product banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but frequently used by athletes to improve their performance.
“Testosterone is the male hormone par excellence, secreted 90% by the testicles and 10% by the adrenal glands, even if women also secrete it,” explains Antoine Faix, urologist-andrologist in Montpellier, to AFP. “It is the hormone of physical, psychological, and of course sexual tone.”
It is part of a group of hormones called androgens.
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During puberty, it allows the appearance of certain specific masculine characteristics such as the development of hair and genitals. It is necessary for the production of sperm and the appearance of libido.
But it promotes muscle development, hence its frequent use in doping athletes. This is what we call an anabolic and is due to the way in which proteins are assimilated.
If this hormone is naturally secreted by the body, it can also be administered “exogenously”.
Testosterone testing may be recommended in men if sexual gland dysfunction is suspected.
“Medically, we generally prescribe it when we lack it, so most often to men of a certain age or to young men who have had testicular cancer, who are diabetic,” underlines Dr Faix. Much more rarely, testosterone is used as a one-time contraceptive in combination with another hormone.
“Testosterone helps produce muscle but it also accelerates muscle recovery,” Michel Audran, professor emeritus in biophysics at the University of Montpellier, former director of the French anti-doping laboratory, told AFP.
It is also a psychostimulant: it increases the athlete's motivation and desire to succeed.
As a result, it is “one of the products most used by athletes who do drugs,” says Mr. Audran.
In order to improve sports performance, testosterone can be ingested in a capsule that is swallowed, applied with a transcutaneous gel, or quite simply, directly injected into a muscle via a syringe.
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Testosterone is considered a doping product and banned by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), which categorizes it as “anabolic androgenic steroids”.
In the case of Paul Pogba, it will be necessary to determine, following his positive doping test for testosterone, whether or not it was an intentional injection.
According to Michel Audran, testosterone is "at the top of the doping products" because it is "very difficult to detect": "it is complicated to differentiate between that produced by the body and that provided by a drug." However, tests carried out via hair samples can indicate whether or not the use of the substance was regular, he adds.