What are the side effects of steroids?
By: John D. Moore, PhD
Accurate information about the side effects of steroids remains elusive for many. This is particularly true of men who are looking for data on the side effects of steroids on the Internet. Use of steroids among young people, particularly teenagers, has skyrocketed in recent years to alarming new highs.
This post will explore basic information about anabolic steroids in an attempt to provide greater insight. While the side effects of steroids listed here can be generalized to both sexes, I am specifically focusing on male body builders.
The five facts listed here include links to research studies that appear in the scientific literature. At the end, I have included a short video on the side effects of steroids as a conduit to greater insight and knowledge.
Steroids and Side Effects
More about me: I have been involved with body building and strength training for over 15-years. I teach courses Exercise Science at American Military University where the topic of steroids and their side effects comes up a lot. Here, I am specifically talking about substances like deca-durabolin and testosterone cypionate.
In the past, I have blogged on the relationship between mental health and strength training. I have also explored the relationship between mindfulness and gaining muscle mass. The material I will share is designed for informational purposes only and is devoid of personal judgment.
You will notice that I have combined my own observations of steroid use as a mental health counselor with the medical science from the perspective of a person who works with many body builders, athletes and novice gym goers.
Steroids: What are they?
Steroids defined: Androgenic-anabolic steroids, commonly referred to as anabolic steroids, are just about identical to male sex hormones. The building properties of steroidal hormones accelerate muscle growth by increasing the rate of bone maturation and the development of muscle mass. Steroids are synthetic in nature, meaning they do not occur naturally in the human body but instead, made in pharmaceutical laboratories.
Steroids are typically administrated through four main routes: injection, orally, skin patches and creams. For body builders, injection of steroids by way of a needle is the most common route of delivery. There are some pill forms of steroids that are taken orally however; this particular pathway to the body is not as common as the injectable route.
Side Effects Steroids: Benefits
Body builders, particularly men, who choose to take steroids, do so for a reason – they work. Note that I am not condoning the use of steroids here. It is important that you know steroids are considered a Schedule III drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration are therefore illegal without a prescription.
Below you will find the purported benefits of anabolic steroids, according to studies that currently exist in the medical literature:
Side Effects Steroids: Dangers
While there are certainly benefits for some people who use steroids, there are also many downsides. What follows are five specific dangers that you may want to think about before you decide to use a performance enhancing drug, like androgens, as part of your body building routine.
FYI: This is not a complete list as there are many other side effects of steroids. I am just listing some of the biggies.
In plain speak, this means your testicles shrink. Atrophy in the testicles occurs with men who use steroids because gonadotropin hormones are suppressed.
This can also cause males who take steroids to have a reduced sperm count and impotence long after a steroid cycle ends.
Enlargement of the prostate is another potential side effect of steroids in some men. You may be wondering why this might be a bad thing? Well, an enlarged prostate elevates your chances of getting prostate cancer. If you have a family history of prostate cancer, the chance of developing prostate cancer increases.
Remember, your heart is a muscle. Steroids impact all muscles in the human body and not just the biceps or triceps. Use of anabolic steroids increases the size of the heart, which can cause a heart attack. This is particularly true of chronic steroid users.
As an aside, I am aware of 5 people under the age of 45 who cycled on steroids over a multi-year period who died as a result of heart problems. Three died of heart attacks and two died from thrombosis (blood clot).
Some people who use steroids over a long period of time develop a liver condition known as Peliosis hepatis. In simple English, this means there are blood filled cysts and tumors that form in the liver. These cysts and tumors can rupture, which can cause internal bleeding.
Remember, your liver is responsible for detoxifying the body of impurities and also produces important biochemicals necessary for digestion.
Depression among men who cycle through steroids is common. In fact, anabolic steroids interfere with the body’s ability to produce serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that heavily affects mood.
Prolonged use of steroids can permanently impact serotonin production, meaning a continual state of depression can become a reality. Steroid rages (aka Roid Rages) are also a potential side effect for some who use androgens, such as anabolic steroids.
From the clinical perspective, I can share with you that I have worked with a number of clients who use steroids “off label” for the sole purpose of increasing muscle size.
Many of these men are on anti-depressants because of the onset of Major Depressive Disorder. While talk-therapy and medications to help these individuals, the reality is that we can only treat their depression. It cannot be “cured”.
Bonus Fact: Purchasing anabolic steroids over the Internet from foreign countries can be extremely dangerous. There is simply no way of guarantying their purity. There have been several cases where vials of purported steroids contained arsenic, lead and benzyl chloride [this substance can cause pulmonary edema, which means blood backs up into the lungs]
Summary: Steroids Side Effects
There are a number of other side effects that a person can experience as a result of using anabolic steroids that are not listed here. Some you have no doubt heard about, including hair loss, weight gain, acne and digestive issues.
If you are looking for more information on steroids or are thinking of beginning a cycle of steroids as part of your body building routine, I encourage you to seriously consider reading the book, The Truth About Steroids by Stewart. The quick read gives a no non-sense look at the reality of steroid use among body builders ad touches upon several of the side effects listed here.
And I would like to say here that there are many people who use steroids for legitimate medical reasons. Examples include persons with muscular disorders and individuals living with HIV Disease. Should you decide to use steroids, you are encouraged to work closely with your medical doctor at all times. This can help to reduce potential risks.
I have included a short video on the side effects of steroids below, produced by National Geographic. Here, you will see more of the science behind what steroids are and how they work in the human body.
A therapist can help you to better understand why you want to use performance enhancing drugs and do so in a way that goes beyond the surface level reason of hoping to look bigger. Particularly, I am talking about issues like muscle dysmorphia (aka bigorexia) and problems with self-esteem.