Anabolic Steroids are synthetic versions of the naturally produced testosterone in the human body. The human body produces the sex hormone, testosterone, to guide production of many male characteristics during puberty. Females produce a small amount of testosterone naturally, as well. The introduction of extra testosterone into the body has many short, and long, term effects.
Testosterone production peaks during and after puberty in males. It is responsible for the growth of facial hair, deepening of the voice, and development of secondary sex characteristics in males. It also enhances the growth of muscle mass and plays a role in the maturity of bones. This natural production is regulated by many factors and off set by estrogen.
What are Anabolic Steroids?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of this hormone. There are hundreds of varieties of steroids being produced. These come in pill, gel, patches, lotion, and injectable formats. The oral formulas require slightly higher dosing and do not last in the system as long as the injectable formulas. The commonly used oral steroids include anadrol, oxandrin, dianabol (d-bol), and winstrol (winni-V). Injectable forms include deca-durabolin (Deca), durabolin, depo-testosterone, and equipoise.
Steroids may be taken in straight dosages (most common format when prescribed by a physician), stacked (used with other drugs or supplements), cycled (a period of use followed by a period off the drug), or pyramided (a gradual increase in dosage until the peak dose is achieved and then a gradual decrease in the dosage to the end of the use period.) Many steroid users prefer a combination of dosing methods.
Anabloic Steroid Effects
Anabolic steroids work in the body by mimicking the effects of testosterone. They increase the normal effects of testosterone in the body. Depending on the dosage taken the body may have as much as twice the free floating testosterone in the blood stream to work with. This causes an increase in muscle mass, strength, and endurance. They also cause an increase in appetite, which provides more nutrients for the muscles to work with, and reduces time needed for recovery, which means less time needed between workouts. When the testosterone enters the muscle it signals the production of additional fibers and bundles. It also works on a chemical level to increase the amount of energy available for each contraction. Oral steroids must pass through the digestive system so some of the hormone is lost in the digestive process, and the processed drug passes quickly into and out of the blood stream. Injected steroids, usually injected into muscle or connective tissue, slowly filters into the blood stream over hours (or days) and is available for a longer period of time.
There are two main dangers with anabolic steroid use; legal and health. Anabolic steroids are controlled substances in most areas, and are banned by most sports governing boards. There are often legal ramifications for steroid distribution, possession, and use. There are also long and short term health effects. Short term use can cause increased blood pressure, acne, balding, insomnia, fluid retention, reduced sexual functioning, infections and abscesses at injection sites, increased cholesterol levels, and headaches. Longer term use can result in liver damage, stunted growth in adolescents, shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, impotence, breast growth (in men), and women may have excessive hair growth, breast reduction, deepening of the voice, abnormal menstrual cycles, and enlargement of the clitoris.
Aside from the physical effects of anabolic steroids, they also have been reported to have psychological effects. Mood swings, paranoia, aggressiveness, and depression have all been associated with steroid use. “Roid Rage” is a condition associated with steroid use, where a user goes into a rage with little, or no, provocation. There has been no evidence of a physical addiction to steroids but it does have a strong psychological hold.
After coming off a cycle of steroids many users experience depression, decreased energy levels, a decrease in appetite, decreased motivation, and a period of adjustment while the body regulates its own testosterone production again. Many supplements can be used to reduce these effects while allowing the body to recover. Pyramiding the dosages also helps to reduce the sudden drop in natural testosterone.
Anabolic steroids have been proven to build muscle, increase strength, and increase athletic performance, but not without a price. These drugs come with some hefty side effects and costly health concerns. Cycling and pyramiding help reduce some of the long term effects, but some of the side effects are cumulative in nature and can pile up over time. The supplement companies have not yet found the true steroid alternative, without the side effects, but science is continuing to move forward. However, until that time the only true steroid-like compounds are anabolic steroids themselves.