Q.I have a boyfriend who is very serious about bodybuilding and sometimes uses steroids. I have heard many conflicting stories about steroid abuse, like it causes sterility. Could you please give me your advice about steroids?



A.Tell your boyfriend he's a fool. And so is any other healthy man, woman or child who consumes any type of steroid. It's dangerous. And it's against the law to purchase steroids without a doctor's prescription.

The use of steroids among weightlifters and bodybuilders appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. There's even an underground steroid handbook that kids can easily order through the mail. It's a piece of trash that openly advocates their use and describes in detail how to ingest and inject steroids.

With lifters and bodybuilders, the irony is almost comical. They subscribe to eating health foods and then turn around and stick a needle in their body. Don't get me wrong. There are many lifters and bodybuilders who don't use or advocate the use of any type of drug. And weightlifters and bodybuilders aren't the only villains. Olympic athletes, football players and many others are just as guilty.

Why would someone risk his or her health for the sake of temporarily adding a half-inch to a bicep or increasing a bench press by 10 pounds? Stupidity? Insecurity? Blind desire to excel? Whatever the reason, it's absurd.

Let's face it, our society has accepted drugs. Every other commercial on TV tells us to take a pill or some kind of medicine. Our kids have been taking drugs for everything from a runny nose to an upset stomach. When a friend at the gym tells them to take a pill to make them big and strong, they don't even hesitate. Well, in this case, there's a big, big difference

Time and space prevent me from going into depth on the horrors of using steroids. I'm oversimplifying the issue, but this is basically the situation: Normally, the hypothalamus in the brain tells the pituitary gland to tell the testicles to produce testosterone. Testosterone is the male hormone that helps stimulate changes in muscular strength and other male characteristics. When a steroid is ingested, however, the hypothalamus senses a raised level of the hormone and tells the testicles to stop producing testosterone.

This can lead to testicular atrophy (testicles begin to shrink because of disuse) and a significant decrease in sperm count. Once the athlete stops taking the steroid, the testicles must begin producing testosterone on their own. Sometime the testicles begin working normally and sometimes they don't. The complications that could arise are frightening.

We haven't even talked about the complications to the kidneys and liver. The problems with cancerous tumors. The increase in blood pressure. Or malfunctions of the heart and arteries.

Also, if kids use a steroid before they're mature physically, the growth line at the end of their bones can close prematurely. The result? They'll stop growing.

There are many other known complications, and who knows how many others that remain unknown. The use of steroids is so dangerous that it's almost impossible to get permission to use humans in a study.

And yet some lifters swear by steroids. Is there any value to using them? I don't think there is. It's my opinion that you cannot make the body do something chemically that it is not genetically capable of doing. The keys to maximum gains are: Train hard and get the proper amount of food and rest. The rest is up to the genetic potential of the individual.

I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to observe athletes at all levels. If there is an advantage to using a steroid (and I don't think there is), it won't be enough to make the difference between an athlete's making the team or not, or between being an all-pro or not.

The day may come when the medical community finds a safe and effective way to chemically enhance performance without adversely affecting health. I hope that day never comes. Let me assure you that we are a long way from being there today.

If you're interested in the problem, buy the book "Death in the Locker Room," by Dr. Bob Goldman, Icarus Press, South Bend, Indiana. It's a must for any coach or parent with kids who may have the slightest interest in steroid use.

I have two young sons who are interested in fitness. I can assure you I'll warn them of the dangers. Parents shouldn't try to scare their kids with the complications that could develop. They're too young and healthy to expect anything bad could happen to them. Give them the facts and hope that they're intelligent enough to make the right decision -- to steer clear of steroids.