Side effects of steroids
Mostly steroids are mentioned as the reason a particular athlete can run so fast, make so many tackles or hit so many home runs. They are also known to have quite harsh side effects and to cause severely unforgiving and permanent damage. There are some movies, such as “The Program” or “The Aaron Henry Story”, where athletes suffer lifelong problems from his steroid abuse, but in reality, those types of horror stories are few and far between. As consulted with many athletes and bodybuilders, almost nothing even remotely resembling the popular horror stories we read about in the media happens.
It is time you learn the truth about anabolic steroid side effects so you will be able to make your own informed decisions regarding using them. Many real-life athletes who had vast experience with anabolic steroid use and also scientific and medical journals were consulted to make this list of side effects. Many sources, like web pages, the governmental sites or medical studies revealed very little useful information and numerous unfounded claims that have no medical value or scientific merit. All you can find is the endless parade of doctors that are against their use. One of the doctor’s opinion was that steroids are dangerous drugs that can cause severe, long-lasting, and often irreversible negative health consequences, when used inappropriately. Side effects mentioned were stunting the height of growing adolescents, masculinize women and alter sex characteristics of men. It is also claimed that anabolic steroids can lead to premature strokes, heart attacks, liver tumours, kidney failure and some serious psychiatric problems, or even to transmit HIV or hepatitis due to injection administration.
Keep this in mind when you read about the side effects here. All of the information below is what has been reported by athletes, as well as what is found in credible scientific journals. After reviewing the information, you can decide for yourself how harmful steroid side effects can be.
Anabolic Steroid Side Effects:
1. Inhibition of Natural Hormones
The most common and probable side effect experienced from the use of anabolic steroids is the inhibition of natural hormones. Taking hormones will almost always send a message to your endocrine system to reduce or even stop producing it. Why this happens? Your body wants to remain in a balanced state, called homeostasis. To maintain it, the body avoids having too much or too little of any particular hormone. Therefore, in case of anabolic steroids being used, the brain signals the testicles to slow down or even stop producing testosterone when there is too much circulating. This will happen when any kind of hormone is added into the body. Even if you are using other anabolic steroids, not necessarily testosterone, the body will still send this signal 99% of the time. Different steroids however cause different degrees of inhibition. Some will cause total shutdown of endogenous (natural) testosterone production, some will lead to very mild reductions, where some natural hormones are still being produced and circulating. Almost always, when the steroids aren´t active in the body anymore, this inhibition will be over.
Most athletes accept this as a necessary price to pay in order to experience the benefits from using steroids. To combat this side effect, athletes have tried various compounds to avoid or at least limit this problem. During or after a cycle (or both) they would use Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, anti-estrogens, and Selective Estrogen Receptor Antagonists (SERMs).
When steroids haven’t been used for a year, all naturally produced testosterone and estrogen levels return to a normal range. The effects that steroids have on the hormones are therefore reversible.
2. Steroid Effects and Liver Damage
Liver damage, caused by the use of steroids, is probably the most sensationalized side effect by the media. It is often generalized that it occurs with every steroid, and in every person who takes them. The truth is that most orally ingested anabolic steroids pass through the liver, the body´s filtration system. And when something passes through the liver, it is broken down by various enzymes, then passed along into the bloodstream. The fact is that liver enzymes are elevated following ingestion, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the liver is being damaged. Especially not if the recommended doses are being used.
Studies that were made, examined very high doses of oral steroids, much more than the average person would ever use on a cycle. At the end, each athlete still had liver enzyme levels that were within normal range. Even in high overdosing, liver enzymes had returned to the same levels as the non-users, after only 3 months!
All ex-steroid users have totally normal liver enzymes one year after they stop using steroids and for some liver enzymes, even the current users have normal scores!
3. Steroid Effects on Cholesterol (Blood Lipid Profile)
Steroids can have a negative effect on your cholesterol levels. They can lower HDL cholesterol, and raise LDL cholesterol. HDL is high density lipoprotein, commonly referred to as “good cholesterol” and it helps protecting the arteries by bringing unused cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down. LDL has the opposite effect. Some steroids will cause high cholesterol levels with low HDL and high LDL. Other are very mild on blood lipids. Regardless of the harshness of the steroid that is being taken, it is likely that shortly after steroid discontinuation levels will return to within normal parameters.
4. Gynocomastia (Development of breast tissue in males)
With the use of anabolic steroids, the feminization of the breast tissue in males, called gynecomastia, is possible. This happens because through aromatization an excess of estrogen is present in the body. Aromatization is a process where androgens like testosterone are converted to estrogen. Excess estrogen will find its way to the receptors in breast tissue and it will bind to them. This possibly results in the female-like breast tissue, which must sometimes be removed by surgery. Athletes first experience itchiness of the nipples, which is followed by pain.
This usually develops over several days, so the athlete has more than enough time to discontinue the use of the compounds he´s taking. Another way is to attempt to counteract the breast tissue development while remaining on the cycle with the use an anti-estrogen Nolvadex (best taken post-cycle) or a very strong Aromatase Inhibitor (AI) like Letrozole (anti-estrogenic compound that is employed during cycle to effectively starve the growth of nourishing estrogen).
The initiation and progression of breast development involves a variety of pituitary hormones and in women, ovarian hormones, as well as various local mediators. Testosterone has the ability to aromatize (convert to estrogen), and eventually become part of the cascade of hormones that later contribute to the development of breast tissue.
5. Acne and Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic steroids can cause the development of acne, but the extent to which it is experienced can vary due to a number of factors. The primary one is the particular steroids and exact dosages. The skin´s sebaceous glands have a high affinity to Dihydrotestosterone, which is an androgen that is naturally produced by the body from testosterone via the enzyme 5-alpha Reductase. Increased sebaceous gland activity causes oily skin which can then combine with bacteria and dead skin. Eventually this will lead to pores to become clogged more quickly than the body can cleanse them. This can be prevented by cleaning the skin regularly, and perhaps using a topical anti-androgen.
6. Roid Rage
Increased aggressiveness, although highly rare (less than 5%) is sometimes claimed to occur with anabolic steroid use. Significant psychiatric symptoms including aggression and increased violence, mania, and even psychosis, have been found in some steroid users. It can be assumed that naturally aggressive people are more inclined to encounter these effects.
Studies showed that no user had become violent as a result of the testosterone injections they had been receiving, although some said they felt more aggressive. There is a high level of control over possible violent or aggressive behaviour that can result from steroid use. Some subjects showed little or no response to testosterone, when it comes to psychological measures, and others experienced significant changes. General temperament clearly plays a large role in how one responds psychologically to steroid administration.
7. Steroids and Baldness
Steroids can cause men to start balding if they are genetically predisposed towards Male Pattern Baldness. This gene is thought to reside exclusively in the X chromosome, so generally a good indicator of whether someone is genetically predisposed towards being bald is to look at the men on their mother’s side. If the majority of them are bald, chances are the person will be carrying that gene too. Steroids can cause premature balding due to the scalps strong reaction to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and many steroids can either convert to DHT or are derived from it. Some anti-baldness medications like Finasteride and Dutesteride, can prevent this from happening.
Anyway, baldness is merely a cosmetic effect and poses no real health issues. Furthermore, it can be avoided when proper steps are taken.
8. Cardiovascular Problems from Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic steroids have been linked to cardiovascular issues, partially due to their effects on Blood Lipids. In other cases, this is due to the fact that many steroid users have enlarged ventricles. This is very common in bodybuilders, powerlifters and other types of athletes, and is more indicative of the effect of weight training on the heart, rather than solely steroid use.
9. Virilization (Development of male characteristics in women)
Females could potentially suffer from masculinization or development of male sexual characteristics. This side effect is however often reversible after steroids are discontinued. Some typical symptoms of virilization is a deeper voice, hirsutism (growth of excess body hair), enlargement of external genitalia (clitoral enlargement), and possible male pattern baldness, or acne on the face or body. This is all very much dependent on the compounds used and the dosages administered. Maybe the most permanent (and typically the most unwanted) of these effects will be deepening of the voice due to the hypertrophy of the vocal chords. If this begins, the best choice is to cease taking all steroids immediately. There are several ways however to reverse this effect, the most common one is a medical procedure known as vocal chord scraping.
10. Stunted Growth (height)
Some steroids can affect the growth of still maturing children, teens and young adults. Not all steroids cause this, certain steroids have even been used in clinical settings to improve growth rates in children. It is possible that aromatizable steroids will cause the premature closure of the epiphysial cartilage, which will lead to a possible growth inhibiting effect that could ultimately result in a shorter adult height. As the growth plates would have fused and cannot re-open, this is most likely an irreversible side effect. Anavar has already been used to improve the height of growth stunted children.
11. Prostate Enlargement
Steroids can potentially cause the prostate enlargement, but it is again only a possible side effect. Furthermore, this enlargement is quickly remedied upon cessation of anabolic steroid use. The first period of prostate growth occurs during puberty as a result of the testicular secretion of androgens. Much later on in life, there is often a second stage of growth due to estrogen combined with a small amount of either DHT or Testosterone. Taking steroids can potentially cause prostate enlargement. Product like Finasteride or Dutesteride can be used to avoid this problem, with a high degree of success.
12. High Blood Pressure
The problem of high blood pressure is possibly the most easily remedied of all steroid side effects. It’s very common when athletes attempt to gain maximum bulk to abstain from all aerobic activity. The body needs to work much harder to circulate blood. The typical water and sodium retention caused by certain steroids can also contribute to this side effect. If you measure blood pressure regularly and ensure that the value is not higher than 140/90, there should be no problem.
13. Kidney Problems
Some anabolic steroids may have a greater strain on the kidneys. Kidneys work in the filtration and excretion processes, therefore when a foreign substance is administered, they need to work harder. Some athletes have noticed very dark urine while on a cycle, and this is an indicator of the kidneys working overtime to accomplish their goal. Trenbolone, for example, turns the user’s urine a very dark colour. This problem is alleviated when enough daily water consumption.
Furthermore, the possibility of side effect is dependent on the dosage and type of administered compounds. Some steroids, like Nandrolones, are even used to help treat people with kidney problems!
14. Immune System Changes
Anabolic steroids may have some effects on modulating the immune system, but again, this is largely dose and compound dependent. Different analogues impact the immune system in differing ways. Testosterone and certain analogues have been shown to suppress the immune system, while Nandrolone and many other compounds have demonstrated a stimulation in immune system.
Both, however, have proven to be beneficial when given to AIDS patients, who have an already compromised immune system. The reason is that the consistent increase in lean body mass that those steroids can provide will lead to enhanced ability to fight off infections, enhance survival rates, and a better quality of life.
15. Growth of Excessive Body Hair
Steroids typically cause increased growth of body hair. Like in adolescence, when hair sprouts in places it formerly wasn’t due to the exposure of high amounts of sex hormones, steroids do serve as a synthetic initiator. The rapid influx of sex hormones heavily stimulates body hair development. This can occur in both males and females, and the hair growth can appear anywhere on the body, except on the head (where the opposite effect sometimes happens due to the large number of DHT receptors).
In women, the hair growth is most often increased in traditionally manly locations on the body such as the face and back, and also on the legs, armpits, pubic region, arms, torso, hands/knuckles and feet. Steroid discontinuation will reverse the irregular growth but it does not reverse or thin any hair already grown during steroid administration.
For men, hair growth will be barely noticeable and it doesn’t really present a problem.
16. Water Retention and Bloating
This is a very likely side effect of specific anabolic steroids. Short-ester testosterone, like Testosterone Propionate and DHT-derived steroids, except Dianabol will not cause significant bloating. Some 19-Nors and medium to long-ester testosterones will have a greater aromatization rate and excess estrogen typically, but not always, equates to greater water retention. Such steroids are therefore often included in bulking cycles and avoided in cutting cycles. What also contributes to the bloating are moderate to high levels of sodium, sugar, and synthetic sweeteners in diet drinks.
Estrogen is required for optimal muscle development, so during off-season training bloating will be acceptable side effect. There are periods of training when athletes and bodybuilders are less concerned and affected by bloating. But when seconds or inches count and muscular presentation readiness is of great importance, bloating is often not wanted. Besides the avoidance of certain steroids and food sources, AIs and SERMs (anti-estrogenics) can be employed. They will reduce estrogenic activity, and promote lean, bloat-free physiques. Another way to fight bloating used by the athlete are diuretics which flush extra fluids from the body. Some are mild (mineral & herbal), others can be harsh, but both should be used respectfully to prevent debilitating cramping which can hinder performance and presentation.
17. Sterility in Males and Females
Sterility, however only temporary, is a common side effect of steroids use in both males and females. Anabolic steroids have actually been studied and approved by the WHO as a male contraceptive possibility. This is caused due to steroids disrupting the various hormones in women, which potentiate the ability to have regular menstrual cycles. In men, steroids will lower Follicle Stimulating Hormone to the point where normal production of sperm is not possible.
It can’t be said that nobody on a cycle has every conceived, there have been numerous happy accidents reported by athletes who were on cycles and thought they couldn´t possibly conceive. Sterility that is caused by steroids is temporary and reverses post-cycle. The reversal can be sped up by the post-cycle therapy that involves the use of SERMs like Nolvadex or Clomid, and Human Chorionic Gonadotropin.
Steroid Effects Myth:
Believing Everything You Hear
Most of what you hear about steroids and their horrible side effects has been exaggerated greatly. Anabolic steroids, like any medication, can cause a number of unwanted side effects. It is a very real and possible concern for those who decide to use them. But they are safe when used responsibly. Take time to examine all the pro’s and con’s to be able to make the best and most informed decisions possible.