A post that we made here on Friday afternoon regarding Sammy Sosa’s shockingly white appearance (hat tip again to Jimmy Traina) kicked off a flurry of activity around the web (for example: here, here, and here) and rightfully so.
The pictures are jarring.
It’s been a while since Sammy Sosa has been in the public eye, and we all remember a much darker version of him than what we are seeing in this current pictures. (Not to mention, as Big League Stew pointed out earlier this evening, when did Sammy start wearing green contacts?)
The obvious question in the immediate aftermath of these pictures making their way around the web is, what might be the root cause of Sammy’s paleness?
I decided to do a little digging — admittedly with a hypothesis that steroid use might have something to do with it — and found some interesting information.
Note 11/9: There has been a lot of traffic to this post and some very insightful and informed comments posted. Make sure you read the comments and take into account the fact that I’m not a doctor, but just an interested observer looking for explanations and trying to address the questions/comments I’m getting and reading.
Notice that I am not saying definitively that steroid use by Sammy caused whatever issue he’s going through now. And no one knows if it’s vitiligo, “skin rejuvenation”, etc. I just decided to search for some connection on the steroids angle and open up a forum for discussion since that was a lot of people’s first instinct.
Hypothesizing that vitiligo might be the root cause of Sammy’s white appearance was a pretty obvious initial direction, and pretty much everyone who has posted about this has mentioned vitiligo (a skin disorder that claims Michael Jackson as its most famous victim).
However, I always assumed that contracting vitiligo was all based on genetics and hereditary issues. The truth, as I’ve come to learn while researching tonight, is that scientists and doctors are still unsure exactly what causes vitiligo.
The prevailing hypothesis seems to be that genetics play a major role in one’s chances of experiencing vitiligo symptoms, but there is also plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that single events and/or lifestyle choices can contribute as well.
Furthermore, there appears to be at least some evidence suggesting that steroid use could be one of the lifestyle choices that increases a person’s likelihood of becoming symptomatic with vitiligo.
Quick aside: I am obviously not a doctor, nor have I done anything more detailed than sift through various Google searches looking for a possible connection between steroids and vitiligo. I am not posting this as an explicit endorsement of the idea, but rather because I found it interesting and thought you might too. I trust you to take the information and make up your own mind.
Steroid.com, as you might expect, purports itself to be “the world’s most visited anabolic website”. According to Quantcast, Steroid.com get around 125K visitors per month. Not too shabby, especially when the discussions center around activities that are, for the most part, illegal.
I found two forum discussions in particular that seem to suggest a possible connection:
Posted in Anabolic Steroids Q&A: White Blotches / Skin Pigmentation
Initial post: I have just finished my third cycle, after the last 2 cycles blothces on my skin, mainly my face and head have appeared, almost like loss of pigment on my skin. It begins approx 3-4 weeks after I have finished my cycle. When my face goes red from exercise or whatever these blothces are increasingly more noticeable. Does anyone have an idea what is causing this? Or can anyone recommend anything to combat it?
Forum poster response: Fluctuating hormones as the cause would be my guess. Do some google searches on vitiligo and hormones, testosterone, thyroid, etc. You’ll find some info out there.
Posted in Member’s Cycle Results: Melanotan and vitiligo
Initial post: Hi all i have a mate with vitiligo he has white hair eye brows and facial hair and white patches all over his skin. This started about 5 years ago and he has had a hard time with it!
The website Mesomorphosis.com also has a steroid forum where the topic of vitiligo has come up, in this case with a guy asking specifically about white splotches on his penis. Here is one of the responses:
in addition to the other comments here, i’d consider getting your estradiol and test levels checked, ur hormones can effect ur pheomelanin and eumelanin levels. and check if ur diet might be high in phytoestrogens or other endocrine disruptors.
Obviously I do not frequent these forums so I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the posters I am excerpting here. And a couple of discussions about vitiligo in a couple of steroid forums does not draw a direct line between steroid use, vitiligo, and Sammy Sosa’s apparent Michael Jackson starter kit.
However, here are a few more things that we do know about vitiligo:
From Medicine.net (and echoed numerous places elsewhere) regarding the use of anabolic steroids:
Notify your doctor if you develop: vomiting, skin color changes, swelling of the feet or ankles.
From WebMD.com regarding the prevalence of vitiligo, which is far more prevalent than I thought:
Vitiligo affects up to 2% of the population, and it is estimated that two to five million Americans have the condition. In most cases, vitiligo develops early in life, between the ages of ten and 30 years. Ninety-five per cent of those affected will develop the disorder before age 40.
For the record, Sammy Sosa turns 41 on November 12th of this year.
And finally, from MayoClinic.com regarding one of the common treatments of vitiligo, which will sound familiar to many Michael Jackson fans:
Depigmentation may be an option for you if you have vitiligo that covers more than half of your skin. Depigmentation therapy lightens the unaffected parts of your skin to match the areas that have already turned white. For this treatment, you apply a medication called monobenzene ether of hydroquinone twice a day to the areas of your skin that still have pigment. Treatment continues until the darker areas of your skin match the already-depigmented areas.
Ultimately, the only conclusion I can make is that there really is no definite conclusion to make. All we have are pictures to go off of. And while they may say 1,000 words, they aren’t telling us specifically what is going on with Sammy’s skin color.
Certainly the general consensus of the sports blogosphere is that Sammy is dealing with vitiligo or something like it, but we’re sports bloggers…not doctors.
I’ve tried my best to do some learning tonight so that I can at least discuss the topic in an informed manner, which I feel an obligation to do since I helped to give the story some momentum earlier this afternoon.
For me, the most intriguing question is if we will find out anything regarding whether Sammy’s confirmed steroid use might have contributed to whatever he is dealing with now. Something tells me we won’t, and that this story will fade as we move into the weekend and get distracted by football.
However, if there is a connection, can you imagine how powerful of a statement to young athletes Sammy Sosa could make without even saying a word?
If the road this story ultimately travels manifests some connection between steroids and vitiligo (or skin pigmentation changes in general), it will just add one more layer in the case that can be made to young people imploring them to stay away from PEDs.
There is a certain level of vanity required for someone to make the decision to use steroids. No one with any semblance of vanity can look at these pictures of Sammy Sosa and not be both shocked and a little horrified.
Then again, maybe Sammy had dressed up as a vampire for Halloween the weekend before these pictures were taken and just hadn’t showered yet. For his sake, I hope so.
I just doubt it strongly, along with everyone else I’ve seen post about this tonight.
Update 9/9: The Chicago Tribune got ahold of a former Cubs employee who is still in contact with Sosa and says that Sammy is “not trying to be Michael Jackson.” Rather, he is supposedly going through a skin rejuvenation process that “women have…all of the time.”
* – Sammy Sosa photo credit: Getty Images via Big League Stew