Jan 29, 2015
What is Overtrained Athlete Syndrome?

By Kenny Berkowitz

Looking for a way to explain testing positive for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing has blamed a condition called Overtrained Athlete Syndrome, claiming doctors are supporting the diagnosis.

*** Nobody disputes the basic facts of the story. Last September, Brian Cushing tested positive for HCG, which is on the NFL’s list of banned substances. In May, the league suspended Cushing for the first four games of the 2010 season, and turned down his appeal in February.

At the time of his suspension, he suggested the HCG might be a sign of testicular cancer, but few people believed him. “If he had a tumor that produced HCG, he wouldn’t be playing football,” said Gary Wadler, MD, who chairs the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee. “He would be under treatment for a malignant tumor.”

Then last week, still claiming he’s never taken HCG, Cushing offered a new explanation: Overtrained Athlete Syndrome (OAS). “I think that’s the final diagnosis we came up with,” Cushing told the Associated Press, “and a lot of doctors have supported why this has happened.

“Every individual is genetically different,” he continued. “I had a unique situation where something like this occurred, and we have the science to back it up. It’s taken months. It’s really beyond what we ever thought, and it’s beyond the regular medical doctor. We’ve gone in depth, and there has been a lot of money spent on the research. There have been a lot of interesting results that I think can help us.”

Beyond that, Cushing hasn’t offered any specific information, and his agent isn’t taking questions. We know HCG is naturally produced by pregnant women, and though it’s not normally present in men, it can be prescribed for male fertility problems. But we also know it’s used to restart testosterone production after a steroid cycle.

What we don’t know is Cushing’s “unique situation” and which doctors are supporting the diagnosis. It would also be interesting to know how the doctors define OAS and how it could explain the presence of HCG.

In the absence of any evidence supporting Cushing’s theory, the Internet has gone into overdrive. Sports Illustrated interviewed HCG researcher Laurence A. Cole, who thought Cushing’s explanation “sounds like a far stretch. I have never seen a case like that… The honest truth is that 999 times out of a thousand, the test gives a correct result. If it’s positive, they’re taking HCG.”

However, coming to Cushing’s defense, Joe DeFranco, Cushing’s personal trainer, wrote, “I will go to my death and say Brian Cushing doesn’t take steroids. The guys at [my] gym know Brian Cushing, the person. They know he doesn’t take steroids. They know his work ethic, insane discipline, and his obsession with living a healthy lifestyle. No explanations needed.”

In another gesture of support, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, presented his case last week to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “I had a meeting with the league’s medical staff and presented additional medical information about Brian Cushing,” he wrote in his two-sentence statement. “The doctors will review the information and we’ll hear from them at a later date.”

Kenny Berkowitz is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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