Negative Effects Of Steroid Use
For years, anabolic steroids have been used by competitive athletes have used to improve performance through muscular size or strength, and by noncompetitive weight trainers for purely cosmetic physique enhancement. In the vast majority of cases, users of that have taken steroids for prolonged periods have reported considerable gains in physical size and strength. However, a large number of side effects and health risks have been linked to extended use of anabolic steroids. Research has indicated that the negative effects of steroid use far outweigh the positive effects. As a result, anabolic steroids are now illegal to use for performance enhancement in professional and competitive sports.
The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), passed by Congress in 1991, defines anabolic steroids as any drug or hormonal substance chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than estrogens, progestins and corticosteroids) that promotes muscle growth (DEA). Steroids are available legally only by prescription, to treat conditions that occur when the body produces abnormally low amounts of testosterone, such as delayed puberty and some types of impotence, and also to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases. The most common types of anabolic steroids sold on the illicit market are equipoise, Maxibolin, Halotestin, Dianabol, Durabolin, Deca-Durabolin, Anavar, Anadrol, Winstrol and Finajet (Steroid Law).
Anabolic steroids can be taken orally, injected intramuscularly or rubbed on the skin when in the form of gels or creams. Cycling is the most common pattern in which steroids are used. This process involves taking multiple doses of steroids over a specific period of time, stopping for a period, and starting again. Users also frequently combine several different types of steroids in a process known as stacking. By doing this, users believe that the different steroids will interact to produce an effect on muscle size that is greater than the effects of using each drug individually. Another mode of steroid use pyramiding, in which users slowly escalate steroid use reaching a peak amount at mid-cycle and gradually decreasing the dose toward the end of the cycle (Roberts).
Results from the 1999 Monitoring the Future Study, which surveys students and steroid use, showed that 2.8 percent of male high school seniors used steroids in the past year. In addition, 44.6 percent of the seniors surveyed reported that it was “fairly easy” to obtain steroids. Among 19-22 year olds surveyed in 1998, 20 percent reported having a friend who was a current user of steroids (NIDA). These numbers will continue to increase as athletes look for performance enhancing methods to assist them in their training.
Prolonged steroid use can be accompanied by a multitude of serious and minor internal and external side effects. Using steroids for an extended amount of time can prove quite detrimental to a male’s general state of health. External changes, those visible on the male body, include virilization, acne and baldness. Internal changes include feminization, cardiovascular risks, changes in mood, gynecomastia, headaches, kidney problems, liver problems, immune system deficiencies, impotence, high blood pressure, stomachaches and water/salt retention problems.
External side effects are relatively mild compared to the internal side effects. The skin is the most sensitive area for side effects. The most apparent side effects are the pores in the skin becoming larger making the skin rough. This process, called virilization, is irreversible once it has started. Another major problem of steroid use is development of severe acne all over the body. Acne that already is apparent may become worse and if there is no acne already, it can be evoked. This side effect will differ from person to person, as all side effects do, depending on the person’s composition and the type and amount of steroid used. Various acne medications may be used in helping control acne outbreaks. Stretch marks are also prominent, not directly from the use of steroids, but from the rapid growth of the muscles. Using aloes, lotions and moisturizing gels can help offset this side effect. Baldness is another problem for some steroid users. Steroids do not cause baldness, however, they can speed the process up for those who are going to lose it anyway. Steroids convert largely into DHT, causing hair loss to quicken. Steroids that are derivatives of DHT can also promote baldness. Hair loss, in the vast majority of cases, is an irreversible process. The external side effects of steroid use are relatively mild, although some are irreversible such as virilization and balding (Steroid Law).
The internal side effects of prolonged steroid use are much more substantial and drastic than the external side effects. With the use of high dosages of anabolic steroids, over a long-term cycle, men can develop extremely aggressive behavior, commonly known as “roid rage”. Some athletes consider this an advantage because of their increased ability to train harder and more intensely, however it has been proven to do more harm than good. Most of the time, this “rage” results in loss of friendships, destructiveness and inability to control one’s behavior. The best way to prevent this potentially destructive behavior is to limit the amount and duration of anabolic compounds in a person’s system. Another negative mental affect is the feeling of depression. Often times when athletes have been using steroids and have experienced huge gains, they expect to keep the gains after they come off their cycle. When their performance falls to that of their natural ability without steroids, the person may become depressed. High estrogen levels can enhance this feeling in the athlete’s system as well. The mental side effects of steroid use can cause severe harm to a male’s health.
Feminization is a side effect that occurs in males only. Excessive levels of testosterone can often be converted into the female sex hormone estrogen resulting in an increased tendency toward fatty deposits and extremely soft muscles. This usually happens when a male’s androgen level is low and overshadowed by estrogen following discontinuation after a steroid cycle. Estradiol, an estrogen, also has an inhibiting effect on the male gonad cycle, resulting in lowered natural production of testosterone and thus effecting the male sperm count. Gynecomastia is the abnormal enlargement of one or both breasts in a man. This is brought on by a hormonal imbalance, which can be achieved by the use of steroids. This condition can occur naturally, without the use of steroids as well. If caught early, gynecomastia can be prevented by the use of anti-estrogens. Supplementing a steroid cycle with anti-estrogens such as Nolvadex and Proviron is a good way to combat these feminization side effects. In general, these symptoms do go away with time. Feminization is the greatest fear of serious bodybuilders looking to compete (Wright).
The risk of heart disease increases significantly with the use of anabolic steroids. The use of steroids raises the level of cholesterol in a person’s system, which causes thickening of arterial walls and could ultimately be life threatening. This severe side effect is not irreversible. Usually after a steroid cycle is discontinued, the athlete’s cholesterol level returns to normal (NIDA). Using steroids can present significant cardiovascular risks to the user.
Most steroids will cause a water and electrolyte storage in the muscles resulting in a swelling of the tissue. For the most part this is not a bad side effect due to the increase in muscle size and strength. The problem is the increased water retention in the skin and blood, causing a person’s skin to look puffy and swollen and putting a larger strain on the heart (Yesalis). The use of a diuretic can help relieve a person’s body from the excess water and salt retention.
High blood pressure is usually induced by high water or sodium retention accompanied with a rapid weight increase. Stress, overworking, overeating and holding your breath during very heavy lifts can also promote high blood pressure. Frequent headaches are common in most steroid users. Steroidal compounds can trigger a hormonal imbalance, which will alter a person’s endocrine system (Yesalis). Headaches are also a symptom of possible high blood pressure, another side effect of steroid use. The only way to combat this side effect is to take a painkiller such as Advil or Tylenol.
Some steroid compounds have an adverse effect on kidney function. This, like most of the side effects describe, has a higher tendency to exist when longer durations or high dosages are being consumed. The kidneys’ main purpose is to filter toxic byproducts, and excrete them. Whenever a person is on any type of drug, their kidneys are under more stress than ordinary. An electrolyte imbalance and high blood pressure can both lead to improper kidney function. Kidney disorders are often reflected in edema, lower back pain, renal colic, fever, kidney enlargement and swelling in the costovertebral region. Liver damage can also occur with the use steroids. A rare life threatening condition called Peliosis Hepatitis, which cannot be detected until the live is completely shut down or until an intra-abdominal hemorrhage develops, can be caused by steroid use. The development of this problem usually repairs itself as steroid use is terminated (Wright).
Some steroid supplements such as testosterone can provide an improved immune system state, making it easier to recover and ward off viral illnesses. The body then becomes somewhat dependent on the steroid supplementation and must be rejuvenated after the supplementation has been discontinued. Often times when a person discontinues their steroid cycle, they allows themselves to become tired and rundown, leading to a tendency to become infected with a viral illness, colds and sometimes pneumonia (DEA).
When first administering steroids, a man will have an increase in sexual function. This side effect is only temporary as your body becomes used to the steroid in its system. With prolonged use of a steroid, the man will eventually feel less sexual desire and will be less capable of maintaining an erection. This is only temporary and can be totally prevented by use of such substances as HCG and Gonakor. Also, when the steroid use is discontinued, the body’s natural level of testosterone will be suppressed (Roberts). This side effect is temporary, but it takes time for the effects of the steroid to wear off.
Anabolic steroids, although proven to enhance physical appearance and performance, come with a plethora of minor and major side effects. A person must decide whether or not the risks associated with prolonged steroid use are worth the benefits they will gain. Prolonged use of anabolic steroids will cause great harm to a person’s general health as is shown in multiple studies done over the years. Side effects such as “roid rages”, feminization, kidney and liver problems, high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease simply do not justify the use of anabolic steroids as a performance-enhancing supplement. Steroids are illegal, except by prescription, for a reason, and all individuals must consider the great risks when pondering the decision to use steroids in their training.
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Yesalis, Charles E. The Steroids Game. Copyright 1998. Human Kinetics: Champaign,
Wright, James E. Anabolic Steroids: Altered States. Copyright 1990. Brown &
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