Anabolic steroids are steroidal androgens that are similar to testosterone and work to increase cell protein in the skeletal muscles. Starting being manufactured around 1930s, they are now widely used for stimulating growth of muscles, increasing appetite, inducing puberty in males and treating conditions like AIDS and cancer. When used in conjunction with proper diet, these steroids can be effective in increasing body weight, strengthening muscles and developing lean mass. Sports people, athletes and bodybuilders often use these steroids to enhance their performance. Let’s find out more.
Uses of Anabolic Steroids
- In medical terms, steroids are often used to stimulate bone marrow, stimulate growth, increase appetite, increase muscle mass, prevent bone loss, aid weight gain, and to treat conditions like delayed puberty, erectile dysfunction, cancer, AIDS, osteoporosis and others.
- Their androgenic effects are helpful in improving libido for men, inducing male puberty, and stimulating male sexual characteristics in transgender and inter-sex people, such as increasing muscle and bone mass, producing body and facial hair, enlarging clitoris, deepening voice etc.
- Steroids can be used not only to enhance performance by athletes, but by ordinary people as well for cosmetic purposes. Steroids are used by both male and female athletes to enhance performance and gain a competitive edge in their sports, mainly being weight listing, bodybuilding, shot put, baseball, cycling, wrestling, boxing, martial arts, cricket, football and others. Some also use them to accelerate their recovery after an injury.
Medically used steroids are testosterone along with its esters such as testosterone cypionate, testosterone undecanoate, methyltestosterone, dihydrotestosterone, trenbolone acetate etc. Use of designer steroids like methasterone, methylstenbolone, desoxymethyltestosterone, and trenbolone is illegal and is often made available through black market. Steroids are available in the form of injections, oral pills, skin patches and topical creams or gels. Oral pills are absorbed quickly and are the most convenient form to use. Steroids injections absorb slowly but withon the muscle. Skin patches are used to convey a steady dosage of the steroid into the bloodstream. Topical creams and gels are applied on the skin everyday for constant benefit.
Some of the side effects commonly experienced by users include:
- Oily skin, stretch marks, acne vulgaris, excessive hair growth on body, scalp baldness, fluid retention
- Decreased or increased sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction, unplanned erections, prostate cancer, testicular atrophy and others in men
- Masculinisation, menstrual disturbance, clitoral enlargement, uterine atrophy, breast atrophy and teratogenicity in females
- Precocious puberty in boys, delayed puberty in girls
- Neurological changes like mood swings, violent behaviour, aggression, irritability, cognitive impairment, euphoria, anxiety, withdrawal and delusions
- Musculoskeletal effects like muscle strain, muscle hypertrophy and tendon ruptures
- Cardiovascular effects like hypertension, myocardial hypertrophy, stroke, myocardial infarction, increased LDL and reduced HDL levels and sudden death
- Glucose intolerance, immune dysfunction and insulin resistance
- Jaundice, elevated liver function tests, cholestasis and hepatotoxicity
How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?
Anabolic steroids are fat-soluble hormones permeable to membrane that affect the cell nucleus by directly working upon them. The steroids start working when exogenous hormone enters the target cell membrane and attached to its AR in the cytoplasm. After diffusing the nucleus, the hormone receptor makes changes in the gene expression. They may also stimulate the process that is responsible for sending signals to the other cell parts. Affinities differ as per the AAS binding to the AAR, and this largely depends upon the chemical composition. As far as increasing muscle mass is concerned, steroids work by increasing protein production and blocking cortisol effects on muscles by reducing the recovery time.
Anabolic and Androgenic Effects of Anabolic Steroids
Steroids have two types of effects on the body, anabolic and androgenic. Anabolic effects promote cell growth while androgenic effects affect masculine characteristics in the user. Some of the anabolic effects include increased appetite, bone marrow stimulation, increased RBC production, and enhanced bone growth and remodeling. Steroids stimulate muscle cell formation, due to which skeletal muscles increase in size and lead to enhanced strength. Androgenic effects include pubertal growth, production of sebaceous gland, increased libido, less production of sperm, suppressed sex hormones and deeper voice. However, most of these depend on the duration of use and are irreversible. Female users may experience deepening of voice, growth of hair on face, and decreased breast size, and male users may experience enlarged breast tissue, reduced sperm count, testicular atrophy and gynecomastia.
Improvement in Body Strength and Size
Within 10 weeks of use, men’s body weight may increase by 2 to 5 kgs mainly due to increased lean mass as a result of the steroids. New muscle fiber starts forming without any effect on the water content of lean mass, however blood volume may increase a bit. Most of the effects are primarily noticed in the upper part of the body, such as shoulders, neck, upper arms, thorax and neck. These effects remain noticeable even after 6-12 weeks of stopping usage, but after that the effects start fading away. Improvement in physical strength largely depends on the steroids being used and their dosage and duration of administration. It works by improving lean muscle mass.
Legal Status of Anabolic Steroids
Steroids are legally prohibited in many countries, but rules in some countries are stricter than others. For instance, in the US, possessing any steroids without a medical prescription is a punishable offence for as much as one year under Controlled Substances Act. In Canada, selling or buying them is illegal, but possessing them is not a punishable offence. There are penalties and imprisonment for importing or exporting them as well. Using steroids without medical prescription is also illegal in countries like Brazil, Australia, Portugal, Argentina and the UK, however you can easily get them without prescription in Thailand and Mexico. Pharmaceutical laboratories are often responsible for producing legal anabolic steroids, but in countries where their production is prohibited, they are manufactured in hidden labs from raw materials imported from other countries. In many countries, steroids are produced illegally and sold in the black market. Some of these steroids are manufactured in foreign nations and smuggled from there. In countries like Europe, Canada and the US, steroids are often sold out as illegal drugs mostly in competitions and gyms. Some veterinarians, pharmacists and physicians are also involved in the trafficking of these drugs.
Use of Steroids in Sports
All anabolic agents are prohibited to be used to enhance performance, including sports bodies of tennis, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, wrestling and others. In Italy, if an athlete has any banned substances in his or her blood, he or she may be entitled to be imprisoned for as long as three years. Similar rules are applicable in countries like Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and France as well.
Whether using alone or with progestogens, steroids are often associated with the increased risk of male hormonal contraception. Progestins and dual AAS like dimethandrolone undecanoate and trestolone are also potential male contraceptives. Topical application of androstanolone on the abdomen is effective in decreasing abdominal fat in females, thus improving body shape.