25 Things Your Personal Trainer Won’t Tell You About Steroids

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Everyone is aware of the pressure that people feel to look good nowadays. We all know about the pressure that women are under to be slim, and the eating disorders and poor body image that results from this pressure. But men (and sometimes women), are under increasing pressure to be ever more muscular and strong, at any cost.

Some people take anabolic steroids to increase their muscle mass and lose body fat, but they have undesirable side effects. Most people misuse these drugs that they are told will make them strong and healthy; this simply is not true. Taking anabolic steroids can be very harmful to health.

What are steroids?

Anabolic steroids are only available on prescription; however, they are often taken in the absence of medical advice as people seek to improve their exercise performance and increase their muscle mass.

The main anabolic steroid hormone produced by the body is testosterone. Testosterone has a few effects on the body. It promotes the building of muscle and it gives males sex-specific traits such as facial hair and a deep voice.

Steroids are popular with athletes, and they use synthetic forms of testosterone to boost performance, given that the amount of money involved in sporting success these days makes winning a necessity. Steroids can improve muscle mass, reduce muscle damage, and enable faster recovery from intense exercise. Some athletes have been known to use ‘designer’ steroids given to them by unscrupulous coaches. These forms of the drug are not approved or tested, and are often undetectable by standard drug tests.

Anabolic steroids are classed as class C drugs, which means they can only be given on prescription. It is not illegal to have them for personal use; however, it is illegal to supply of sell them to others. You can end up with a fine or even in prison.

How are anabolic steroids taken?

They are most often injected into a muscle but they also come in tablet, cream or gel form. Many people who use steroids know how to use them for a certain amount of time before side effects occur. They inject the drug, then take a break from it before using them again. This is called cycling. Using more than one type of steroid at a time is called stacking. Some people believe that this makes them more effective. Another way to use the drugs is a method called ‘pyramiding’, where one or more types of steroid are used in a low dose at first, then the dose increases gradually over 6-12 weeks, before the dose is reduced again to give the body a break from it. Steroid users tend to exercise more intensely when they are using the high doses so they can reap the benefits of improved exercise performance.

The risks of taking anabolic steroids

The risks of taking anabolic steroids

Abuse of anabolic steroids has been linked with the developments of many adverse side effects, ranging from effects on physical appearance, such as the development of acne, and facial and body hair in women, right through to life threatening effects such as heart disease and cancer. Usually, the effects disappear once the drugs are discontinued, though some effects can be permanent, such as deepening of the voice in women.

Information about the long-term effects of steroid abuse is scarce, as most of the data comes from reports and case studies rather than substantial studies into their usage. Serious side effects may not be adequately reported however, as they may occur a long time after the steroid use. Animal studies have demonstrated that giving male mice steroids for 1/5 of their lives resulted in a high number of early deaths.

It can reduce sperm count

All anabolic steroids reduce testicular function because they cause a decrease in the amount of the hormone FSH which is responsible for sperm production.

It can make men infertile

A 2009 Chinese study found that when men received testosterone injections, their sperm counts reduced so considerably that they could be considered infertile. 1045 men were given injections for 30 months, and were asked to have unprotected intercourse. Only 1.1 couples out of every 100 in the study were able to conceive.

It can cause erectile dysfunction

Steroids reduce a man’s ability to make testosterone. The effects of this can be long term or short term, depending on how frequently and to what extent the steroids were used. Excess testosterone also shrinks the testicles. In one study of male bodybuilders, more than half had experienced shrinking of the testicles.

They can cause premature baldness

Steroid use increases testosterone in the body, which is linked to male pattern baldness, especially in people with a genetic predisposition to hair loss. The hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone) drives hair loss, and as steroid use increases overall testosterone, the levels of this hormone can increase too.

They can increase the risk of prostate cancer

Steroids enlarge the prostate. This is not usually an issue and the prostate tends to return to normal size after steroids are discontinued. But studies have shown that after the age of 40, the prostate can begin to grow naturally, and if a man is also a steroid user, then he is more at risk of getting prostate cancer.

They can cause acne

Steroid use can cause the development of acne on the face, chest and back. The increased testosterone levels in the body stimulate the sebaceous glands into producing more oil. The oil blocks the pores and causes acne-causing bacteria to grow. The excessive oil production is not limited to the skin, the hair can also become excessively oily.

They can give you stomach problems

Steroids can increase the amount of acid produced by the stomach and reduce the production of the mucus which protects the stomach lining. This can cause irritation of the lining of the stomach which results in problems such as indigestion and abdominal pain.

They can increase facial and body hair in women

Excess testosterone taken into the female body can result in the development of masculine characteristics, such as excess face and body hair. Scalp hair can be lost despite this. Side effects such as this can be temporary or permanent.    

They can make a woman’s voice deeper

The development of make characteristics is not limited to excess body hair. Don’t be surprised if your voice starts to sound deeper and you could easily pass for a tenor! This appears to be one of the side effects which more often becomes permanent.

They can lead to menstrual problems

Steroids mimic the male hormone testosterone. Any excess testosterone in the body affects the normal production and action of hormones in the female body, and many women taking steroids experience irregular periods or they can cease altogether.

They can cause hair loss in women

All drugs that are prescribed for hormone or reproductive conditions can cause hair loss. Anabolic steroids can cause hair loss and thinning in women, as can the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy.

They can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke

A study found that long term use of steroids can weaken the heart, possibly irreversibly. Middle-aged weightlifters who took steroids for 10 years were found to have impaired heart function compared to weightlifters who did not use the steroids.

They can increase the risk of liver and kidney cancer

Steroids are known to cause tumours to form in the liver and kidneys. Some of these are not cancerous but they can turn into cancer over time. Abuse of steroids has been linked to a condition called peliosis hepatis, where cyst filled with blood form in the liver. The cysts can rupture, which can cause internal bleeding.

They can cause high blood pressure

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. Researchers have suggested that the reason that steroids increase blood pressure is because they encourage the retention of sodium and water in the body. Some steroid users use diuretic drugs to combat the water retention, however this is dangerous and can lead to electrolyte imbalances.

They can lead to blood clots

Anabolic steroids can cause blood clotting factors to decrease. They also cause the rest of the platelets to clump together, and this can lead to blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks because if blood flow is disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood effectively.

They can increase cholesterol

Steroid use has been linked with heart disease and problems, such as heart attacks and strokes. Studies have shown that these conditions have even affected athletes aged under 30 years old. Steroids raise the risk of the development of heart disease by increasing the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood, and decreasing the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. This can increase the risk of atherosclerosis, where plaque and excess blood fats can clog the arteries and disrupt blood flow. If blood flow to the heart is reduced, it can result in a heart attack, if blood can’t reach the brain properly, it can lead to a stroke.

They can cause aggression

Studies have found that steroid users demonstrated higher levels of aggression, especially when they are taken in high doses. In one study, users reported that they had been involved in acts of physical aggression, theft, and vandalism.

They can cause mood swings

The effects of the steroids on the brain are related to how they act on the brain chemistry, and how they affect levels of dopamine, serotonin, and opioid receptors. The steroids disrupt normal brain chemistry which results in mood swings.

They can cause infections

Anabolic steroids are most often injected, so the same risks apply for users that apply to the users of recreational drugs. Users can be exposed to hepatitis B, C and HIV through the use of needles that aren’t sterile. Some steroids are also manufactured under non-sterile conditions. As well as hepatitis and HIV, users can acquire a bacterial infection of the lining of the heart, called endocarditis, which can be fatal. Pain and the formation of abscesses at the injection site can be caused by infections too.

They can lead to hallucinations

One case study looked at a 25-year-old male with no psychiatric history. He was using anabolic steroids and going through a period of stress at the time. Upon commencing the use of steroids, he began to feel irritable and suffered from insomnia. He began to suffer from paranoid delusions to the extent that he needed a psychiatric assessment and was commenced on anti-psychotic medication. Symptoms disappeared after the steroids were discontinued. Psychotic episodes induced by steroid use are rare, but they do occur.

You can become addicted

The effects of the steroids on brain chemistry mean that the drugs become addictive. An addicted user will continue to use the steroids, even in the face of very unpleasant side effects. If a user stops taking them, they will experience withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, and joint pain.

They can cause depression

The steroids act on the endocrine system and disrupt the production and function of the neurotransmitters that regulate mood and stress levels. This makes a user more prone to mental disturbances such as depression.

There is an increased risk of tendon rupture during use

Steroids can cause a very rapid gain in strength, and sometimes the connective tissues can’t keep up. The stronger you feel and the faster you recover from intense exercise, the more weight you will lift, which puts a strain on ligaments and tendons.

You will have trouble sleeping

Many steroid users report that they feeling anxious, irritable and ‘pumped up’, which is not conducive to having a good sleep.

Everyone is trying to attain the ‘perfect’ body nowadays

Final thoughts

Everyone is trying to attain the ‘perfect’ body nowadays. Women feel constant pressure to be slim, and men and boys often feel the pressure to be ever more strong and muscular. As with the diet industry, the bodybuilding arena can be a place that is full of peer pressure, where unscrupulous coaches promise a quick fix to muscle growth, increased strength, and an almost superhuman ability to recover from intense exercise by taking anabolic steroids.

Athletes often succumb to this pressure too, given that there are so many vested interests in them being successful, at whatever cost. Sponsorship deals worth millions are offered to the athlete at the top of their game, whatever they have done to get there.

This ‘at whatever cost’ mentality is damaging both to sport and the fitness arena in general, and of course, to the athlete’s health. Most steroids are taking without any medical guidance, even though they are indicated for medical use for certain conditions. They are often unregulated and untested and can cause untold damage to health, which can be irreversible.

Playing around with the body’s chemistry is never a good idea. The body tries to keep itself in optimum balance to keep all its systems running as they should. Once something is knocked off balance, problems occur. The body’s hormones govern many actions and reactions within the body, and they shouldn’t be messed around with.

Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone. Excess testosterone in the male body will result in reduced fertility, as the body cuts its own production in response to the excess synthetic levels in the blood. Erectile dysfunction, testicular shrinking, and reduced sperm count can all occur as a result.

Excess testosterone in the female body will result in a woman developing male characteristics, such as excess body and facial hair, a deeper voice, and menstrual irregularities. Some of these changes can be permanent.

As well as the effects on appearance which can occur in both sexes, such as hair loss and acne, more serious health issues can result from steroid use. They can lead to impaired heart function, liver and kidney cancer, and serious mental health issues.

Many studies have linked these health concerns with long-term use of anabolic steroids. These drugs can become addictive and are often abused. The user will continue to use them so they can get the benefits of increased strength and faster recovery, despite suffering from considerable negative side effects.

Withdrawal from steroid use can cause unpleasant symptoms, similar to those experienced by drug addicts withdrawing from recreational drugs. There is also a risk of infection with steroid use, as they drugs are often injected. If they are injected under non-sterile conditions, the user can be exposed to hepatitis, HIV, and a possibly fatal bacterial infection of the heart.

This route to the body beautiful is not worth the risk that injecting these often untried and untested substances into the body. Long term damage for short term gain is not a good pay off, and you may be dealing with the consequences of steroid use for the rest of your life. As with most things in life, the natural way is best.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.