During the 1970s and 1980s, the former East Germany conducted a state-sanctioned program administering anabolic steroids to its athletes.
Now the horrific consequences of the doping program are beginning to emerge.
A study of 52 of the athletes has revealed that not only do they have serious health issues, but their children have high rates of physical and mental deformities.
And a quarter of the athletes suffer from cancer.
The study was the first to analyse the long-term health consequences of East Germany’s doping program on both athletes and their children.
The research has just been presented at the Play the Game conference in Iceland.
Initially 60 athletes were involved, but by the project’s end, one had died and seven others withdrew from the study because of psychological problems.
Associate Professor Giselher Spitzer from Humbolt University investigated the 52 remaining athletes and their 69 children.
None of the athletes had known that they were taking anabolic steroids.
Assoc Prof Spitzer says most of the children have disabilities.
“You have 69 children who survived the birth, and many of them are damaged or have some damage, especially if the mother was drugged – if the father was drugged there are not so many side effects on the second generation,” he said.
“But if you think of the risk of premature death, it may be 30 times higher than the risk of [a] normal woman who [has] children.”
He says there was also a high cancer rate among the athletes themselves.
“There was one figure I was astonished [at] also, that one of four has cancer,” he said.
“That’s unbelievable – not only women with breast cancer or something, even the male athletes have cancer, cancer of the skin, the different cancer types.”
Associate Professor Spitzer says the study shows steroids also have devastating psychological consequences.
“Another thing was really depressing also, the psychological sphere, and we found all but nearly one third of the group has a tendency to damage themselves, that means auto aggression, for example to cut with a knife your own skin.
“A big number of the sample tried to kill themselves … because their personal situation was so desperate.”
Associate Professor Spitzer says the lesson from the research is that doping is a danger to health.
“That’s the first step. There is no healthy doping,” he said.
“Every doping agent, every doping pharmaceutical has side effects. We see that very clearly.
“The message is your children will be damaged by that practice.
“Many athletes, or many body builders for example, fitness athletes, say, ‘It is my body, and I’ll do what I want’.
“It is not the truth, it’s not only your body, it is the second generation, and we don’t know what will be of the third generation.”