The use of anabolic steroids is a highly controversial issue in both professional sports and personal use, with avid proponents on both sides. Anabolic androgenic steroids, or AAS, are derived specifically from the male hormone testosterone; the term steroid can apply to estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, testosterone, or several other terpenoid lipids. The word anabolic means to build up and anabolic steroids are used specifically to increase muscle mass.
When used in moderation, do anabolic steroids actually pose a significant health risk or are there health benefits that outweigh or nullify the risk factors? The answer to this question is complex and somewhat inconclusive because no formal studies have been conducted on the effects of long-term use of anabolic steroids. Most available data has been collected from individual case reports. However, available data indicates that side-effects of long-term use of anabolic steroids depend on a number of factors, such as:
•Age at initial use
•Overall physical health
•Duration of treatment
•Other medications being used
Side effects of long-term use that have been reported include:
•Acne and cysts
•Premature onset of puberty and sexual development
•Disruption in menses
•Increased female attributes among males
•Decreased male attributes among males
•Increased male attributes among females
•Decreased female attributes among females
•Infertility in both sexes
•Emotional instability, including “roid rage”
•Low HDL and high LDL levels
•High blood pressure
•Cardiac disease and stroke
•Increased risk of blood clots
•Decreased mental acuity
•Liver issues, including cancer
When an individual begins use of anabolic steroids at a young age, the side effects appear to be increased and may become irreversible, even if use is discontinued. Stunted growth can be one side effect because the increase in hormone levels may signal the body to stop bone growth. Additional anatomical abnormalities, such as increased clitoral size, can occur in females, and decreased testicle size can occur in males.
Infections are frequent among long-term users of anabolic steroids because they either share needles with other users or they do not use sanitary injection procedures when injecting themselves. Common infections are HIV, hepatitis B and C, and endocarditis, which is an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. Endocarditis can be fatal.
A study conducted by McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School indicated that long-term users of anabolic steroids experienced cognitive dysfunction similar to those with dementia. The areas tested were:
Although the study was conducted on adults between the ages of 29 to 55, it can be easily extrapolated that the long-term effects on younger users would be exacerbated. Subjects in the study had used anabolic steroids for an average of seven years.
However, anabolic steroids may have a positive function in some circumstances and when not abused or used for extended periods. When used for a limited duration, anabolic steroids can decrease body fat, increase muscle strength and performance, and increase athletic ability. An athlete may find it easier to lose weight when on anabolic steroids and, particularly in the case of body builders, may achieve an improved physical appearance. If you are after performance enhancement, there are steroid cycles that you will want to look into which are generally a combination of steroids and supplements that complement one another for maximum results as well as minimizing negative side effects.
A study reported in the NIH, or National Institute of Health, encompassed 63 women, some of whom were treated with anabolic steroids following surgery for a hip fracture. Those who received the anabolic steroids did not lose muscle mass during their recovery, whereas the control group did. Mobility was also significantly improved in those who received the anabolic steroids as opposed to the control group.
Individuals who have tested positive for HIV are often given anabolic steroids in order to maintain muscle mass, increase appetite, and encourage a positive self-image. These individuals use anabolics under the supervision of a physician and are monitored for their health and well being.
Anabolic steroids are also given to men as a form of hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. When a man’s testicles do not produce sufficient testosterone to maintain male sex characteristics, anabolics are often administered. Again, this is under the supervision of a physician and the patient is closely monitored for adverse side effects.
Individuals who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, have also received positive benefits from the use of anabolic steroids. Patients have reported a decrease in muscle and joint pains, respiratory problems, and cardiac issues.
As with almost any substance, overuse or abuse can result in harmful side effects, including death. However, when used responsibly and under the supervision of a physician, anabolic steroids have been shown to be beneficial to some individuals. Anabolic steroids can encourage healing after surgery or illness, improve quality of life, and provide backup for some of nature’s misfires.
Before embarking on a regimen of steroid use, please be sure to consult your medical practitioner to ensure that there are no unforeseen and unpleasant results and that there are no possible drug interactions with current medications. Please note that the above is for information purposes only and is not intended to advise, treat, diagnose or cure any medical condition.