Thursday, July 27, 2006

From 6:1 to 4:1: The creation of an unfair testing standard?

Floyd Landis failed his drug test on the basis of levels of his urinary testosterone. Specifically the testers look for the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. Anything above 4:1, according to numerous sports organizations, from the Olympics to the NFL to the UCF, constitutes a positive indication of artificial testosterone use.

In the past the ratio of positive evidence was 6:1 but it has been lowered uniformly to 4:1.

Landis tested positive at a ratio of somewhere around 5:1 putting his test result in that range where he would have been negative before.

According to a highly-cited and definitive controlled study of the effects of testosterone administration (DEHENNIN L, MATSUMOTO AM
JOURNAL OF STEROID BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY 44 (2): 179-189 FEB 1993) the 4:1 ratio may be a bad measure leading to unfair false positive results. In fact the study shows that even a 6:1 ratio leads to false positives in a significant number of cases.

In a placebo administration to 10 study participants, the study showed that 20% of the participants started with levels above 4:1 even before the administration of a placebo. One of the participants started above a 6:1 ratio without the administration of anything whatsoever.

It is likewise important to note that the participants in the study were normal 28-30 year old men. They were not athletic outliers with bodies undergoing the dual stresses of a 2000 mile bike ride under extraordinary levels of pain. And they weren't taking cortisone, a steroid injection. Even 20% of these average Joes would have failed the test simply by sitting on a couch eating potato chips.

Questions linger:
Can either pain or the administration of cortisone induce elevated ratios?
Is there a definitive test, if the 4:1 ratio test neither confirms nor denies tha actual use of testosterone?
Would the administration of cortisone create a false positive even in a definitive test?


Blogger Rob O. said...

Thanks for putting this blog up. Good post. I'll forward it to my list.

5:37 PM  
Blogger tinhat said...

An ESPN analyst today cited that Landis' ratio was 11:1. Not sure about his source, though.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Free Floyd said...

Thanks for the info Tinhat. Wow, 11:1. 11:1 is bizarre and if it's a fact it would undermine my argument wrt preplacebo default levels. If he did it deliberately he would know how to mask, which would be the next question. it would be as if he felt suicidal the day of stage 16, which is quite possible. dosing and not masking would be highly irrational but certainly plausible.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

But if he had a naturally high T/E, why didn't it reveal itself the other five times he was tested during the Tour, or during any of the other races he contested and won this year and over his career? What could explain the sudden spike?

12:59 PM  
Blogger trust_but_verify said...

Unfortunately the link to the original paper is only valued inside UNC. Is there a publicly available version, or are we in academic publisher hell?

2:33 PM  
Blogger Jason A. Miller said...

Thanks for starting this blog. I was thinking the same thing, but I have none of the expertise you do.

On Thursday, on NPR's Talk of the Nation, Charles Pelkey, editor of, cited unnamed personal sources in giving the same 11:1 ratio. His caveat was that Floyd's testosterone level was actually normal; it was his epitestosterone level that was extremely low. I haven't seem the same information verified anywhere else, but you can listen to the segment. It puts the ratio discussion in a different light.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Free Floyd said...

yes TBV it appears we may be in academic publishing hell.
the only public piece I could find was at
- an abstract on PubMed.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Amateur said...

You might be interested in my post on the increase in positive tests in 2005 (all sports).

Great job on this story, by the way. Found it through sportsfilter.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Free Floyd said...

Since reading this story I've found the levels cited as 4:1 and 6:1 for Floyd's actual levels. Neither of those reports are reliable however (one's from CBS> I feel they aren't worth posting.

10:02 PM  
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