Tim goes to the gym. In the locker room he sees the reflection of his body in the mirror. He does not like what he is looking at. He starts to wonder if any girl will ever like him when he looks like that. Tim looks at the ripped muscular guy standing next to him with envy. A thought pops to his head: “i can look like that, and there is something i can buy that will help me get the results i want in no time – Steroids“. But at what cost are willing to look beautiful?
Anabolic steroids are used in bodybuilding and sports to increase muscle mass and enhance performance. Anabolic steroids are a form of testosterone which is a male sex hormone – secreted by the testes and the adrenal glands. Testosterone levels start to rise when boys reach their puberty and keep rising until they are 40. Women also secrete testosterone from their adrenal glands, it is important for women too – it keeps their libido going.
Growth hormone (hGH) are also used for doping in bodybuilding. They are hormones secreted in the pituitary in the brain. They are not as popular as steroids - probably due to high cost.
When you hear the word steroids what do you think of? Most people tend to think of an illegal substance bodybuilders and pro athletes use. On the other hand when a doctor is talking about steroids he is talking about glucocorticoids which are used for immune suppression in conditions like allergies and asthma. So what are steroids?
Steroids are hormones made out of cholesterol. Hormones like testosterone, estrogens, cortisol and aldosterone are all steroids. Like i said, they’re made out of cholesterol, but what does that mean? Cholesterol works like a base, then different enzymes can add or remove different compounds to it. This can be useful to know when thinking about side effects of steroids. Testosterone for example is made out of cholesterol through 5 enzymatic changes. Aromatase is an enzyme that can change testosterone to estradiol – that is the reason many bodybuilders taking testosterone get gynecomastia – when their testosterone levels rise, their estrogen levels rise causing breast tissue maturity .
Where do anabolic steroids come from?
Anabolic steroids are illegal in almost every country in the world. But why are they manufactured?
Here is a list of medical conditions treated with androgens (male hormones) and anabolic steroids:
- Post menopausal loss of libido
- Kallmann’s syndrome
- Kleinefelter’s syndrome
- Androgen deficiency
- Aplastic anemia
- Chronic debilitating disease
- Major surgery
These drugs then make their way to the black market for healthy individuals to buy. Some countries like Thailand sell steroids without a prescription from a doctor. The internet is flooding with sites where you can buy anabolic steroids. And of course there is always that one guy in every gym distributing steroids – so steroids are not that hard to come by.
Route of administration
Most steroids are injected into large muscles such as the gluteus maximus and deltoid. Steroids can also be orally administered. Per os steroids are rapidly broken down and inactivated in the liver and are more toxic for the liver than the intramuscular injections. Although intramuscular steroids are safer, risk of infection and abscess formation is increased due to lack of hygiene and inappropriate syringe use.
Testosterone and it’s effect on the body
So lets talk about the effect testosterone and anabolic steroids has on the body. Testosterone has two effects: anabolic effects and androgenic effects. Maturation of male sexual organs (formation in the fetus and puberty), facial hair growth and chest hair – are part of androgenic effects. Anabolic effects include strengthening of bones and increased protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy. So the perfect anabolic steroid would only have anabolic effects – but in real life anabolic steroids also have some androgenic effects. The androgenic:anabolic ratio is helpful when choosing a steroid. Steroids with a high ratio are used for hormone replacement (like in androgen deficiency) and steroids with a low ratio are ideal when increased tissue formation and muscle hypertrophy are the desired effects.
Why do anabolic steroids increase muscle mass?
Anabolic steroids work by affecting androgen receptors in cells. In muscles cells they bind to the receptor to form a steroid-receptor complex – the complex then travels inside the nucleus of the cell and binds to certain regions in the DNA – this increases protein synthesis and leads to muscle hypertrophy and stronger contractile force. Decreased adipose tissue (fat) is also one of the desired effects of anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids then work against the catabolic effects of stress-hormones. One thing many people notice about steroid users are their round, puffy face. This is because anabolic steroids are mineralocorticoid agonist – meaning they help retain sodium and water in the body, causing edema. Because the steroids increase red blood cells in the body, the muscles receive more oxygen which leads to a decreased production in lactic acid – which decreases fatigue. As you can see anabolic steroids are perfect for your muscles if you want to gain strength and size. But like they say – there is no rose without a thorn.
What are the side effects of anabolic steroids?
The severity of undesired side effects depend on the dose, the type, combination of steroids and duration of administration. Normally side effects develop after prolonged use – months, even years. Most side effects are reversible but chronic use can lead to permanent damage. Little is known about actual dose dependent side effects since the dose in controlled studies isn’t nearly as high as the dose used in doping among bodybuilders and athletes.
Most common side effects are related to the androgenic effects of the steroids. In males the androgenic effects lead to testicular atrophy, infertility, painful gynecomastia, prostatic hypertrophy and hair loss. Females taking anabolic steroids have elevated male hormone levels and thus must become more male-like. Androgenic side effects are more dramatic in females: lowering of voice (some even sound like 14 y.o. boys), facial hair growth, reduction in breast size and clitoral hypertrophy are just a few of the side effects women experience.
Anabolic steroids also affect the whole body: Metabolic complications (increased LDL cholesterol), cardiovascular complications (stroke, myocardial hypertrophy), liver complications (elevated liver enzymes, hepatic tumors, jaundice), skeletal-muscular complications (premature growth cessation in teenagers), skin complications (severe acne with scarring), psychiatric complications (depression, aggressive behavior) – the list goes on.
In general people want to look fit. The media tells us every day that people with six-pack abs and bulging biceps are more beautiful and successful then the average Joe. So why wouldn’t we want to look like a fitness model? But building muscle and burning fat is a complicated task, anabolic steroids help us with muscle growth and fat burn. That is why many people turn to steroids to help them sculpt their bodies and look more beautiful. Anabolic steroid use can be safe when used within a therapeutic range. Bodybuilders on the other hand most often use much higher doses in doping – where the steroids are taking fitness and exercise from being healthy to something unhealthy.