Tuesday’s class about ergogenic aids made me think about everything an elite athlete puts into his body. As an athlete myself, I have tried protein shakes, vitamins, sports drink, energy drinks and mineral salts; but a childhood friend of mine, on the other hand, has turned to illegal substances. It is for this reason I wanted to learn more about anabolic steroids, their desired effect and most importantly, the devastating symptoms they can have on our bodies.
“Anabolic-androgenic steroids” (or AAS) are sythetic mutations of the sex hormone testosterone. “Anabolic” refers to muscle building wheras “androgenic” refers to increased male characteristics. Doctors commonly prescribe AAS to treat hormonal imbalances or muscle losing diseases such as delayed puberty, AIDS or cancer. However, elite athletes and bodybuilders commonly abuse and/or misuse AAS, injecting doses 10 to 100 times higher than prescribed to patients. Skeletal muscles are the main target of anabolic steroids where they boost the muscle cells and promting the growth of both type I and II muscle cells(1).
Unwanted effects of AAS affect men and women differently but common symptoms include both mental as well as physiological complications. Physically, users may suffer from severe acne, swelling in hands and feet, kidney failure, liver damage, enlarged heart, high blood pressure, change in cholesterol levels. All of which increase the risk of sudden heart attack and heart complications. Psychologically, users may experience paranoia, irratibility, impaired judgement or even extreme mood changes. Other symptoms are gender specific where men can suffer from shrinking testicles, decreased fertility, premature loss of hair and increased risk for prostate cancer. In women, typical symptoms of AAS are growth of facial hair/body hair, deepened voice and changes in the menstrual cycle(2).
Can AAS be eleviated? Some athletes believe that they can avoid unwanted side effects by taking them in specific ways. “cycling” (user takes doses for a period a time, stop for a while, and restart taking) is the most famous routine but the truth is that no scientific evidence demonstrate that this practice (as well as others) reduces the harmful impacts of anabolic steroids(2).