Increasing muscle mass and strength is a goal for many, especially men. We have seen a rise in the sale of supplements aimed at promoting muscle growth. Such as protein shakes and anabolic mass gainers. People often use these in conjunction with an extensive gym routine. However, to speed the process up, many opt for steroids. These have a reputation for their ability to increase muscle mass. However, the misuse of this substance can be harmful to your health. Results range from increased cancer risk to increasing your chances of infertility by as much as 90%.
What Are Steroids?
Scientifically known as Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids (AAS), steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone. This is the primary male sex hormone. Having the ability to affect various parts of your body, from your muscles to your nervous system, physicians traditionally prescribe steroids for the treatment of various health conditions. These include:
- Primary Male Hypogonadism: A decrease in one or both of the two major functions of the testes: Sperm and testosterone production
- Hypogonadotropic Hypogonadism: A form of Hypogonadism due to a problem in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
- Delayed Puberty in Children: Occurs when the testes produce little to no hormones
- Osteoporosis: A condition whereby bones weaken and become brittle
Other benefits as a result of using these according to your prescription include:
- Improving bone mineral density
- Increasing red blood cell production
- Improving muscle endurance
- Enhancing recovery from workouts
While people use them primarily for medicinal purposes, there has been a rise in the misuse of steroids for their muscle-building and strength-increasing properties.
A Widespread Issue Among U.S. Men
Approximately 3 to 4 million people in the United States alone are using anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes, showing how this is a major issue. While advanced strength and conditioning exercises are vital, many athletes take their fitness journey a step further by taking steroids such as performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Studies have shown that athletes using AAS can experience strength gains of about 5-20%, and weight gains of about 4.5-11 pounds. Many professional athletes have been found to be using AAS as a performance enhancer, which is illegal, leading to their disqualification and loss of championship titles in various tournaments, including the Olympics.
Some men take them regularly to improve their physical performance and bulk up. However, the misuse of AAS can carry numerous side effects that can be quite detrimental to your long-term health.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
- Left Ventricular Hypertrophy: AAS used in combination with resistance exercise can lead to an increase in the size of the left ventricle of your heart. This thickening of the heart wall causes increased blood pressure in the heart and difficulty in its ability to effectively pump blood.
- Increased Hemoglobin and Hematocrit: These are blood markers that play an important role in oxygen delivery throughout the body. Increased levels of these two can thicken your blood, increasing your risk of a heart attack and strokes
- Impacting Cholesterol Levels: AAS has been shown to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which increases your risk of heart disease.
- Your liver is responsible for metabolizing and breaking down most drugs in your body. AAS use has been linked to increased Aspartate Transaminase (AST) and Alanine Transaminase (ALT) levels, which are both markers of liver stress. These enzymes are responsible for amino acid metabolism in the liver. Unfortunately, excessive amounts can leak into the bloodstream when damage happens to the liver.
- Liver Cancer: Long-term AAS use has been shown to increase liver cancer risk. As one of the most common types of cancer in the world, the liver is unable to eliminate toxins due to a genetic mutation, which excessive AAS use has been shown to cause.
Increased Risk of Infertility
Steroids can trick the brain into thinking that it is producing a sufficient amount of testosterone. As a result, the brain decreases its signaling to the testicles to produce sperm and testosterone. This leads to a decrease in sperm count. Research has shown that excessive AAS use can increase your risk of sterility by as much as 90%. Also, it has been shown to decrease levels of the Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which are both important hormones in sperm production.
Other side effects and complications of AAS misuse in men include:
- Gynecomastia (Enlarged breasts)
- Testicular Atrophy (Decrease in testicle size)
- Severe acne and cysts
- Hair loss
- Major depressive disorder
Steroids: Risks Outweigh The Benefits
Anabolic Steroids are classified as schedule III drugs, and the only way to legally obtain them is through a prescription for certain conditions, such as low testosterone and muscle-wasting diseases. This makes it illegal to take them for the purpose of bulking up. While steroids may help speed up the muscle-building process, is it really worth the risks that they carry?
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Pixabay
- Gawash, A., Zia, H. and Lo, D., 2023. Body dysmorphic-induced Androgenic Anabolic Steroids usage and its association with mental health outcomes. medRxiv, pp.2023-01.
- Ayubi, N., Kusnanik, N.W., Herawati, L., Komaini, A., Cholik, T. and Syafawi, A., 2023. Abuse of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids and Adverse Effects on Human Organ Health: A Review. Biointerface Res Appl Chem, 13(3), pp.1-11.
- Mulrooney, K.J., van de Ven, K., McVeigh, J. and Collins, R., 2019. Steroid madness-has the dark side of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) been overstated?. Performance Enhancement & Health, 6(3-4), pp.98-102.