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The dangers and myths of anabolic steroids by Richard Gibbs

Published at 27 May 2015
Oh we do love a good transformation story here at Muscle Food and one such fitness journey has certainly caught our attention. Last year, James 'Arg' Argent, star from The Only Way Is Essex, was a pretty out of shape guy with a BMI of 32 making him clinically obese
 

The Hidden Dangers & Common Myths of Anabolic Steroids - Opinion Piece

By Richard Gibbs

Steroids. The taboo subject. While usage is rife in many gyms up and down the country, people are still afraid to talk or ask about them.

Now, I am neither pro or anti steroid use, so where does that leave me? Well, I like to fully educate myself. But, as with anything taboo, it is often difficult to educate, or even talk about steroids, due to the misconceptions created by the media.

One such misconception is that they're 100% illegal. In fact, they are legal to possess but NOT to buy or sell. It's fair to say the law is grey in that area…

It is also widely believed that steroids can have a negative impact on the body, which I believe to be hearsay and what some people want to be true, therefore masking the judgment for the individuals who may wish to learn more.

So, the big question is…

Body building competition

Can steroids be used safely?

Obviously, I can only give you my opinion, but as with anything in life there is a risk to reward ratio:

  • Are steroids 100% safe - no
  • Are they likely to kill - no, BUT health complications may, and can, occur. This is why there is a need for education.

It is also important to note that the deaths we hear of in the media, if anabolic steroids are used they are usually mixed with recreational party drugs and this is a cocktail for problems.

If the user is aware of the possible complications through the use of AAS then, in theory, they would be able to stop using before their health is put in jeopardy.

However, herein lays a further issue, for if someone is concerned about their health they are often afraid to seek help as the subject matter is so touchy.

What are the most dangerous consequences of steroids?

The list of dangers associated with steroids can be extensive, but here I'll focus on some of the most hazardous:

  • Blood pressure
  • Organ changes
    • Heart enlargement
    • Liver toxicity
  • Lipid impact
  • Neurodegeneration

Blood Pressure

First things first, steroids are notorious for raising blood pressure - but that doesn't mean it will happen to everyone. Because of this, it's often overlooked.

Some may track their blood pressure whilst taking AAS, many, however, do not.

This is usually the average gym goer having bought their AAS from their local gym dealer, been given no instruction in how to use it and who won't seek advice from other users. As a result, they run the risk of running into complications with life changing consequences.

So what can be done if blood pressure is raised?

  1. 1. Cardiovascular health
  2. Studies have shown that "aerobic exercise [can] reduce blood pressure," which I'm sure a lot of us could benefit from regardless! Plus, "an increase in aerobic physical activity should be considered an important component of lifestyle modification for prevention and treatment of high blood pressure."(i) Speaks for itself…

  3. 2. Supplements & dietary habits
  4. Research has indicated that oral magnesium supplementation can "significantly reduce"(ii) and support "the management of"(iii) high blood pressure.

    In the case of dietary habits, sodium is considered one of the biggest culprits in raising blood pressure - this, however is a myth, according to Whelton (1997). Whelton suggests that if you don't wish to eat a low sodium diet, the alternative is to consume a high potassium diet as:


Oral potassium supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure
The blood pressure lowering effect was…
More pronounced in people eating a diet high in sodium chloride.

(iv)


    This is because the two minerals work in sync, and if they are out of balance this can be an issue. Although more research is currently being conducted into this claim.(v)

using steroids

For anyone who is considering steroids, that is their own personal choice and they are absolutely free to do so, but I highly advise a blood pressure monitor to be purchased. A good brand can be bought such as Omron for £20 off Amazon.

Organ changes

Using steroids - whether injectable or oral - can change your organs. I will start with injectables, I can't go through them all but you will get a rough idea of things that may, and can, happen…

Red blood cell count and haematocrit will rise over prolonged use of anabolic steroids, some compounds which will do this are:

    Human Body
  • Testosterone
    The most common anabolic steroid used, which can be used for replacement therapy in people with low Testosterone. Over time users will need to have blood drawn due to the increase of volume and thickness of their blood.
  • Equipois
    Another steroid notorious for raising red blood count (more than most of the others), which is obviously great for endurance athletes and bodybuilders alike.

    A lot of users notice increased appetite which can be a problem during a dieting phase in a deficit. Equipoise is a fairly mild steroid however, in terms of side effects but, as mentioned, red blood count and acne can be an issue.
  • EPO (injectable)
    The one a lot of endurance athletes use because it carries oxygen to our muscles and the rest of our body - most notably, Lance Armstrong admitted to using it throughout his cycling career.
  • Anadrol (oral)
    Used to treat low red blood count, so that is stating the obvious.

Now the issue again here is with the subject of steroids being taboo.

The only way to really know if any of this is happening (increase in volume and thickness of blood) is to have a blood test - a simple, cheap and clear cut way to find out the information needed.  But, the majority of people don't want to disclose their use to the GP, which is understandable due to the nature of the subject, yet it can be life threatening.

If visiting your GP isn't something you'd like to do, there are a few needle exchanges dotted around the country which do free, anonymous blood testing for all you could ever need.

Anyone using steroids should be having blood tests done frequently (every three to six months without fail). If blood test results would show that these values are too high, you should come off any steroid you are on and go for further blood testing in the future to see if your values have reduced.

Heart Enlargement

Heart Enlargement is, to some extent, a concern but blown very much out of proportion.
Top athletes have also been found to have an enlarged heart as it is a muscle! (vi)

In my opinion, this is just a classic case of media and even doctors blowing something out of proportion when it's seen every day in athletes. Studies have shown that the effects on heart enlargement are minimal.

Liver Toxicity

Liver toxicity and steroids damaging the liver is something you often hear about. This is true, but not how most people talk about it. They hear the word 'steroids' and assume all of them do this. For the most part it is just oral steroids as some are more toxic than others.

This means the duration a person is on them should be shorter, in theory.  There are one or two which are not as easily available but Winstrol and Dianabol are both common oral steroids that can come in an injectable form. They are also hepatotoxic.

Oral steroids need to be run for less time as mentioned, because of this liver issue. This article is not for me to tell you how long they should or shouldn't be run, these are things you need to find out through your own research. Something people rarely do these days.

Before you decide on which steroid to take (if you decide to take one) don't listen to anyone! Conduct your own research and make an educated decision on your own.

There are a lot of products being sold on the market (legally) that are called Liver Protect and so on, but these products are not very effective. The major supplement available with plenty of data to use to help our liver maintain a good level of health is Tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA). (vii) (viii)

Blood test

Lipid Impact

The majority of Oral steroids have an effect on our lipids (LDL, HDL Cholesterol) - another reason why running oral steroids should be run for a limited time. They are notorious for crashing HDL into lower ranges.

Certain drugs are much harsher on your lipids than others, two of the main culprits are:

  • Anavar
  • Winstrol

This is another thing that needs to be monitored and taken into consideration when using oral steroids. Once again, blood work is key.

If you run into issues with your cholesterol, it would be a good idea to stop taking the drug completely, and/or try to improve your cholesterol so it remains in a healthy range, either by exercise, diet, supplements or medication. However, even with injectable steroids it is important lipids are still being monitored.

Neurodegeneration

Recent findings have shown that Trenbolone - commonly known as the classic steroid to cause aggression - has been linked to neurodegenerative disorders.(ix)

Trenbolone is also very hard on blood work, and is something that needs monitored when you're using it.

That being said, it's important to point out, if you're a bit of a nutcase pre-steroid use, you're just going to turn into a bigger nutcase. If you're a nice guy, you're going to remain that nice guy!

I find it rather offensive when people try and play that off as if steroids turn everyone into some kind of unapproachable monster or a violent person, however some steroids such as trenbolone will make you more prone to being aggressive while others won't. The main issue with trenbolone is that it hasn't been approved for humans so and the only research we have is based on animal data.

Oestrogen Management & Testicular Atrophy

Syringe and viles

Oestrogen is the female hormone in your body, when your testosterone levels rise, conversion happens.
It happens to everyone but is very person and dose dependent - some do not need ancillaries to control it.

However, for those who do, oestrogen is easily controlled with some simple aromatase inhibitors that lower it, most commonly:

  • Arimidex (Anastrozole)
  • Aromasin (Exemestane)

It is important to remember, though, we need a little oestrogen and we need conversion happening - we just want it in range and under control.

If not controlled, it can cause a whole host of problems such as:

  • Prostate Enlargement
  • Gynecomastia
  • Water Retention
  • High Blood Pressure
  • No Libido
  • Erection Problems

BUT, having too low oestrogen also shares some of these problems such as no libido, erection problems and achy joints. I've often seen that some people aren't sure if they've killed their oestrogen or if it's too high - guess which way is best to find out?

You got it. Blood work!

Gynecomastia In some unexplainable circumstances there are a few small issues which can occur with Anadrol. For example, Gynecomastia can still occur in rare cases even though it does not interact with the aromatase enzyme.

In that sort of case a SERM (Tamoxifen) is essential to have on hand. There is very little data to show Anadrol interacts with the oestrogen receptor, although some anecdotal evidence indicates that it may impact the receptor in some way, which is why SERM's help in this case.

Complaints for gynecomastia in studies are rare, so all we have is anecdotal evidence which the bulk of the data doesn't support. Writing recently on the topic, clinical physiologist CJ Allen noted:

 

It's been noted that oxymethelone (Anadrol) bears some structural similarity to estradiol, therefore hypothesized that it may possess inherent estrogenic qualities by stimulating the oestrogen receptor itself instead of by converting to oestrogen via aromatization.

While this would seem to explain some reports of side-effects and treatment of them with selective oestrogen receptor modulators literature on the topic is conspicuously absent.

To date no substantial evidence has surfaced that indicates oxymetholone has any binding affinity for the oestrogen receptor, although studies examining metabolites have not examined this in depth and further study is needed to rule out the possibility of estrogenic metabolites of the parent drug. (x)

 

Prolactin can be another strange one, although when oestrogen is controlled, this may and should not be an issue.  There have been anecdotal reports that prolactin issues have occurred even when oestrogen is controlled. This highlights more importance for regular blood work.

As for AI's and SERM's the difference best explained with an analogy my friend Russell Taylor came up with:

They are like sword and shield. When oestrogen is high the sword attacks the high oestrogen and reduces it and the SERM shields the receptor from the attack…

Testicular atrophy

man checking pants

Testicular atrophy is something that is widely misunderstood by a lot of people. You can see this daily via social media as an example. Yes, your testicles while you're on anabolic steroids may reduce in size, but they will also go back to normal once you've finished the cycle you are doing.

There is a way to keep your testicles a bit more 'alive' during cycle, which will also help you recover faster during Post Cycle Therapy, Human chorionic gonadotropin (better known as hCG) will allow your testicles to remain at a 'fuller' size if you were that bothered by the side effect.

I have even heard people saying steroids make your penis shrink. Just to confirm, no, that does not happen.

The Conclusion?

man in gym

Steroids are a tool and are very effective at what they do.

They do have dangers if not understood or used correctly. However, the media paints them as some kind of death drug, or as something that will destroy your life and other lives around you. This is simply not true.

I think the comparisons with alcohol, smoking and sedentary lifestyles need to be pointed out here…

While I am with the stance that humans should be allowed to use what substances they want; alcohol, recreational drugs and tobacco are three of the most destructive substances on the planet! At the end of the day, it all comes down to education.

About Richard Gibbs

Richard Gibbs

26 year old Richard - An avid fitness fan and Muscle Food customer - has been training for a number of years.

He currently resides in the North East of England in Lincoln, and runs the coaching business, Kratos: Strength and Conditioning, with a close friend.

If you'd like to learn more about Ritchie or Kratos: Strength and Conditioning, check out his Facebook profile.


 

References

(i) Whelton SP, Chin A, Xin X, He J. Effect of aerobic exercise on blood pressure: a meta-analyses of randomized, controlled trials. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11926784

(ii) Guerrero-Romero F, Rodrigues-Moran M. The effect of lowing blood pressure by magnesium supplementation in diabetic hypertensive adults with low serum magnesium levels: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19020533

(iii) Kawano Y, Matsuoka H, Takishita S, Omae T. Effects of magnesium supplementation in hypertensive patients: assessment by office, home, and ambulatory blood pressures. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9719052

(iv) Whelton PK, He J, Cutler JA, Brancati F, Apple Lj, Follman D. Effects of oral potassium on blood pressure; meta-analyses of randomized controlled clinical trials

(v) Dickinson Ho, Nicolson D, Campbell F, Beyer FR, Mason J. Potassium supplementation for the management of primary hypertension in adults. http://www.bibliotecacochrane.com/pdf/CD004641.pdf

(vi) Urhausen A, Albers T, Kindermann W. Are the cardiac effects of anabolic steroid abuse in strength athletes reversible? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1768225/

(vii) Panella C, Ierardi E, De Marco MF, Barone M, Gugliemi FW, Polimeno L, Francavilla A. Does tauroursodeoxycholic acid (TUDCA) treatment increase hepatocyte proliferation in patience with chronic liver disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8541578

(ix) Crosignani A, Budillon G, Cimino L, Del Vecchio Blanco C, Loguercio C, Ideo G, Raimondo G, Stabilini R, Podda M. Tauroursodeoxycholic acid for the treatment of the HCV-related chronic hepatits: a multicentre placebo-controlled study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9840118

(viii)Ma F, Liu D. 17β-trenbolone, an anabolic-androgenic steroid as well as an environmental hormone, contributes to neurodegeneration. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25461682