The subject of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids, (AAS) is one that seems to be surrounded by more myths than facts. Firstly, it is important to define what a Steroid is. Steroids are synthetic hormones used to treat a wide variety of conditions. People may not realise it; however, the birth control pill is a Steroid. This is because it is made from synthetic Oestrogen and Progesterone. Other forms of Steroids are Corticosteroids which are used to reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are available in different types such as:
• injections – which can be into blood vessels, joints or muscles
• inhalers – such as mouth or nasal sprays
• lotions, gels or creams
Corticosteroids are mainly used to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.
They are used to treat medical conditions such as:
• allergic rhinitis and hay fever
• urticaria (hives)
• atopic eczema
• chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• painful and inflamed joints, muscles and tendons
• inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
• giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica
• multiple sclerosis (MS)
AAS are widely used in all sports for a variety of reasons. Some Sprinters use them to help them run faster, Professional Bodybuilders use them to build bigger stronger muscle and to recover faster between workouts. Endurance athletes use them to help them run further. Whatever the reasons are for using them the main reason athletes use AAS is because they know or suspect that their competition is using them, and they want to level the playing field. In terms of, “Cheating” if you drug tested every athlete in a sport and they all failed, are they really cheating?
I will let you decide for yourselves. Although I would not use them unless a Doctor prescribed them to me I will never judge somebody who does or has used AAS.
Now that is out of the way lets look at some of the stated side effects and the supporting evidence:
Steroids increase aggression. People talk about, “Roid Rage” as if it is a known fact. I have worked with people who have used AAS and trained in gyms where a large percentage of members were using AAS. In my experience the AAS users who showed signs of aggression were just as aggressive before they took them. The difference is that they were more likely to act on that aggression once they had built up their muscles. Whether this was down to the increased levels of Testosterone in the system or not I do not know. Below you will find a section from an article on livescience.com asking if Roid Rage exists.
Steroids (technically known as anabolic steroids) work by mimicking the hormone testosterone, which causes most of the change’s boys experience during puberty, including a deeper voice and increased muscle mass.
Studies have shown clear associations between testosterone and aggression. In general, hormones — the body’s chemical messengers — work by attaching to target cells and changing their behaviour. The chemicals can affect mood by targeting nerve cells.
But research shows conflicting results for the existence of steroid-induced rages. If they do exist, they happen rarely, and likely only among excessive users with pre-existing psychological issues.
AAS cause erectile disfunction. Sometimes referred to as, “Decca Dick” heavy use of AAS such as Decca-Durabolin, (Nandrolone Decanoate) has been reported to cause erectile disfunction. Erectile disfunction has many causes such as stress, alcohol misuse or as a side effect form use of hormone replacement.
AAS causes baldness. This may be true relation to Hulk Hogan, however Arnold Schwarzenegger also used AAS throughout his Bodybuilding career and he still has a full head of hair. Baldness can be caused by a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is hereditary, other times it could be due to having Alopecia.
AAS cause Acne. Some people believe that acne in teenagers is caused by the increase in Testosterone experienced in puberty. The sebaceous glands are particularly sensitive to hormones. It’s thought that increased levels of testosterone cause the glands to produce much more sebum than the skin needs. It stands to reason that use of AAS can have a similar effect, however just as not every teenager experiences acne, not every user of AAS will experience acne.
AAS cause breast growth in men. Commonly referred to in the gym as, “Bitch Tits” Gynecomastia is a common condition that results in the development of breast tissue in men and boys to swell and become larger. It can be caused by hormone imbalance, obesity, puberty and even old age. Oestrogen is found in men in lower levels then women. Heavy usage of AAS will cause a hormone imbalance and it is thought that the body increases Oestrogen levels to offset the higher levels of Testosterone resulting in Gynecomastia.
AAS make women more masculine. AAS are synthetic forms of Testosterone, although it tends to be seen as a male hormone, Testosterone is found in women, however it is at lower levels. Heavy use of AAS by women is reported to cause extra facial hair, loss of hair on the head, a deeper voice, shrinking breasts, and an enlarged clitoris; as well as risking acne, an increased risk of menstrual problems and changes in sex drive. If a woman is undergoing gender reassignment surgery then some of these side effects may be wanted, however if a woman is using AAS to improve sports performance then these need to be taken into consideration.
These are a small sample of what has been said about AAS. It is worth mentioning that AAS are used by Doctors everyday for the treatment of many medical conditions such as delayed puberty in boys, low testosterone levels and certain bone and blood disorders. They are also used as part of gender reassignment treatment. The difference between medical use of AAS and sports performance purposes is that Doctors will only prescribe the physiological dose. In simple terms they will only prescribe the amount that a healthy adult male would produce naturally. Many of the reported side effects are because of taking higher doses then a Doctor would prescribe.