Understanding the Side Effects of Steroids
For decades now, steroids have promised, and delivered, dramatic effects for bodybuilders and athletes alike, who have come to rely on the performance enhancing abilities of steroids to help them achieve new goals and make progress in their competitive efforts. Regular users also include average people in the gym, who simply want to enhance their appearance or achieve personal goals.
But for many, the promise and appeal of steroid usage often outshines the potential side effects. And that’s a problem, because steroids are powerful drugs, and you need to understand the effects of those drugs on your body before you begin using them. If you simply rush in blindly, and don’t respect what these drugs can do to your body, you’re potentially setting yourself up for major trouble in the future.
But with the right knowledge and respect for what steroids can do, you can safely use them, or at least minimize any long-term damage to your body. The key is knowledge, so that you engage the right way.
Steroids act in different ways within the body, but many side effects are common to more than one steroid. These side effects are common to many or most steroids, and are considered to be general side effects of steroids as a whole. Other side effects, depending on the steroid(s) in question, are specific to men or to women, depending on the steroid and how it interacts with the human body.
Anabolic steroids all derive from Testosterone, DHT, or Nandrolone (both of which are ultimately derived from Testosterone). Testosterone, in its natural state, is critical to the body for a number of processes, including everything from muscle growth to bone density, to hair growth and mood. But when the amount of Testosterone in the body is increased, it leads to common side effect in many users.
General Side Effects from Most Steroids include:
- Cardiovascular Side Effects – Pretty much all steroids have a negative effect on the cardiovascular system, ranging from ventricular hypertrophy to hypertension, and heart enlargement. While these symptoms can be treated with diet and other supplements, and usually fade after steroid usage is discontinued, they are real side effects and should be treated with caution.
- High Cholesterol – Anabolic steroids generally increase the level of LDL (the bad cholesterol), while decreasing the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in the body, which leads to a buildup of LDL, in turn leading to arteriosclerosis. Basically, what happens is that the steroids ultimately affect the androgens that break down an enzyme called hepatic lipase, which in turn breaks down HDL. When the androgens are prevented from breaking down hepatic lipase, it’s free to break down HDL, which is the good cholesterol, thus lowering the HDL levels in your body.
- Heart Enlargement – The heart is essentially a muscle, and has muscle cells. Steroids work on these cells as well, causing them to enlarge. Steroid usage also leads to increased thickness of the ventricular walls, which can lead to impaired cardiovascular abilities.
- High Blood Pressure – While the levels of elevated blood pressure in most bodybuilders seem to be relatively moderate, it is a cause for concern and should be monitored. Most blood pressure increases are actually due to water retention caused by the elevated levels of estrogen as a reaction to the androgens created by steroid usage.
- Liver Hepatoxicity – The reason that many steroids are injected rather than consumed in a pill is twofold – one reason is that the metabolic digestion processes in the body will destroy most of the steroid before it can reach the bloodstream and be of use; the other, more serious, reason is that oral steroids are processed by the liver, which is in turn damaged by the steroids. This leads to liver damage known as hepatoxicity, which if continued over a long time can lead to permanent damage.
Male-specific Side Effects
- Gynecomastia – Anabolic steroids often create an elevated level of estrogen in the body, as a response to the androgens introduced through steroid usage. When that happens in males, it can often lead to an enlargement and swelling of the breast tissues, known as gynecomastia. Not all steroids produce this effect, and there are relatively simple treatments for it.
- Testicular atrophy – When steroids are present in the body, the testicles begin to decrease their production, due to the large amounts of Testosterone already present. They begin to degrade and shrink, and lose their ability to generate Testosterone on their own.
Female-specific Side Effects
- Voice Deepening – A common side effect for women is the deepening of the voice, as a result of the androgenic effects of steroid usage. Androgens affect the larynx as well as muscles that help with vocalization, leading to a deeper voice. This is why male voices are typically deeper than female voices. If steroids are used in a limited manner and their effects are monitored, this condition can be temporary. However, if left untreated and the steroid usage continues, the change can be permanent.
- Clitoral Enlargement – The androgens in steroids work on the clitoris just as they work on the penis during puberty. In other words, they cause growth. This growth can range from unnoticeable to significant, and can be reversed if treated properly.
- Increased Hair Growth – Hair growth is a common side effect of androgens in the body, and leads to growth of hair in places normally seen only in men, such as facial and back hair. Again, with proper treatment and monitoring, these effects can be minimized or eliminated.
There are other side effects that can occur as a result of steroid usage, and some side effects are more common in one class of steroid than others. Most all of the side effects of steroids can be mitigated through diet, other treatments, and management of your steroid usage. The key is to make sure that you understand what you’re getting into with any steroid, and be prepared to make adjustments and monitor the effects of the steroid closely. Don’t just be on the lookout for the good parts like muscle and strength growth. Also keep your eyes open to the negative effects as well. If you do, and react accordingly, you can keep the good effects and minimize the negative effects on your body.