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ANABOLIC STEROIDS: Not Just For Men Anymore

Lindsay Sutton




I. Introduction
II. What are Anabolic Steroids?
III. Which kinds are their?
IV. What are the benefits of using Anabolic Steroids?
a. Physical side effects
b. Behavioral side effects
c. Functional side effects
V. Why do women take them?
VI. What is steroid abuse?
VII. Conclusion




I. Introduction

       Anabolic steroids have been around since the 1930s. While they started out solely for medical purposes, they have now become widely accepted for recreational endeavors and heightened athletic performance. Though highly accepted, they are still very illegal without a written prescription. While they have surpassed their medical uses and found their way into top athletes and body builders, they have also crossed the gender barrier. Men are not the only users anymore. More and more women have felt the effects of anabolic steroids and before you think they are the thing for you maybe you should read this first.


I. What are Anabolic Steroids?

       Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that mimic the male sex hormones known as androgens. This is where the true name anabolic-androgenic steroid is derived, but for familiarity purposes they are referred to only as anabolic steroids (no purely anabolic agent has ever been synthesized). Specifically, they are synthetically produced to act as the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone has a 17-carbon core, like its replication- the anabolic steroid, and is credited for the promotion of growth of skeletal muscles and the development of male sexual characteristics. It has both androgenic (masculinization) and anabolic (tissue-building) effects in the human body. Functions of testosterone include increased numbers of red blood cells, improved calcium deposition in the bones, muscle enlargement, increased body hair, thickening of vocal chords, and growth and development of the prostate gland (Hickson, Ball, Falduto; 1989). Women have naturally occurring testosterone already present in their bodies, but in such small amounts not to notice any of testosterone's true effects. Anabolic steroids were developed to treat conditions in men like hypogonadism (when testes do not produce enough testosterone for normal growth , development and sexual functioning), some instances of impotency, and HIV and other infectious diseases. Through experimentation, though, scientists found in lab animals that anabolic steroids could facilitate the growth of skeletal muscles and with this is where the weight lifters and athletes come in to play. Since then over 100 anabolic steroids have been developed and most of them still remain illegal without consent from a doctor. While they were initially created for male related irregularities, they are now finding their way into a woman's body and becoming a part of some women's daily routine.


II. Which kinds are their?

       Winstrol, Testgro, Testo Prop, Halotestin, Anadrol, Stromba.... the list goes on and on of the common street names for anabolic steroids Basically though their are 5 popular separate products being sold individually or in a combination with others that can either be taken orally or injected with needles. This list is Androstenedione, 4-Androstenediol, 5-Androstenediol, 19-Norandrostenedione, and finally 19-Norandrostenediol . First, lets consider the "andros." They are not drugs and can be sold legally as dietary supplements in health food stores ). Androstene is naturally produced by the body's adrenal gland. But with the help of scientists, the andro that is on the market has been biochemically enhanced. In other words, it is one enzyme away from being the infamous testosterone. With andro (approximately 200 milligrams a day) you have the capabilities of increasing the circulation of testosterone by anywhere from 200 to 400%. This is why andros get so much attention from lifters and athletes. They can work out harder and more frequently since their muscles are recovering faster and developing more rapidly. Now lets look at the "norandros." They are exactly like the andro molecule except they do not have a carbon atom at the 19th position and they are usually not sold as a dietary supplement. The absence of this carbon means the norandros can't be converted to testosterone, so instead they are converted to nortestosterone, or the hormone nandrolone ). Nandrolone is nitrogen retentive, meaning it stores nitrogen and can at times inhibit muscle growth, but it stays attached and circulating much longer than the andros. You loose some muscle enhancing peaks like those of andro, but norandro lasts up to 2 or 3 weeks longer. Don't believe norandros are any less effective in increasing muscle strength and size. With stored nitrogen in your muscles, though, your workout can sometimes become painful and appear unproductive because your muscles get and stay tired quicker. Both the andros and norandros have their positive aspects, like increased muscle growth and strength, and certain drawbacks, like over-working your body due to a quick recovery rate and the nitrogen retention which can lead to torn muscles and ligaments. Every steroid is simulated for a certain purpose and depending on your personal purpose and how you want to go about achieving your ideal self will depend on whether you're a andro user or a norandro user. Choose wisely.


III. What are the benefits of using Anabolic Steroids?

       It is obvious by looking at a woman who uses anabolic steroids to see the benefits. A woman will "have reduced body fat, an increase in lean body (muscle) mass and increased strength )." She may also develop euphoria and a heightened self-esteem. In general, a woman who uses will have much more energy. She may have the pleasure of winning a body-building competition or have the opposite sex notice her more if those are her intentions. She may not feel so vulnerable and after using anabolic steroids may feel like she can now protect herself in a dangerous situation since she will look and feel more intimidating. A woman even experiences heightened sexual arousal. Using anabolic steroids for personal satisfaction is very common among women. Internally, her body has "improved nitrogen utilization which promotes a positive nitrogen balance by the reversal of catabolic processes ( ). They can improve nitrogen balance and increase the concentration of total plasma amino acids." She will have increased protein synthesis and decreased nitrogen excretion. Overall, a woman will experience an increase in leanness, muscle definition, muscle mass, weight, and strength (Strauss, Liggett, Lanese; 1985). The effectiveness of training will become better for she will have an improved recovery rate. She will become more aggressive, have a heightened sexual drive and a better self-esteem. But there is more to using anabolic steroids than just appearing to be the person you have always imagined yourself to be.


a. What are the negative side effects?

       Let's begin by saying all negative side effects are directly related to the dosage, duration of use, and the type of steroid being taken. Though some side effects appear very obvious, other effects of using anabolic steroids may not be so easy to find. There are 3 areas of a woman's well-being that are being affected while she uses. They are the physical, behavioral, and functional aspects of her body that are now chaotic because of the increase in testosterone and other hormones. But remember, the exact incidence of serious or fatal adverse effects is unknown and it is difficult to determine accurately just how dangerous the use of anabolic steroids is (Wu FC; 1997).


b. Physical side effects

       First, lets discuss the obvious, the physical side effects. Look at a non-user and notice the curves a woman naturally possesses- wider hips, a slender waistline, and a beautiful, pure shape to her breasts. Some call it the "coke-bottle" figure. When you look at a user, the natural curves have become very straight, her physique is very defined, and her breasts have atrophied, meaning they have decreased in size and have degenerated. Virilization is occurring, or she is developing male character traits. Her body is now retaining much more sodium, so her face and eyes can appear puffy. Over time, a woman will develop a male body type and experience male aging characteristics. A woman's voice deepens and can permanently become hoarse. She will develop excessive hair growth on her face, chest, back, and upper pubic area, but she also can experience male pattern baldness and have a receding hairline. A woman's skin becomes very coarse and acne appears. Hypertrophy, or enlargement, of her clitoris occurs as well. Most of these physical side effects are irreversible. You can't wake up one day and realize you want your old self back. Physically, anabolic steroids take captive almost everything that makes you a woman.


c. Behavioral side effects

       Next, anabolic steroids affect a woman behaviorally. A woman may find herself very irritable, getting angry over the littlest of incidences, and show signs of high aggression which can lead to violent outbursts. Some doctors and users both refer to these outbursts as "roid rage." More frequently, a woman will suffer from mood swings. She becomes very aware of her surroundings. This heightened awareness can sometimes lead to schizophrenic and/ or psychotic episodes and hypomania (part of the manic-depressive cycle). She might feel like everyone is always staring at her. A woman can become so confident with herself, see another woman who she thinks looks better than her, and be thrown into a depression, or worst a rage. That depression, though, is the marking point of a dependence on anabolic steroids because the first thing the woman will usually do is take another cycle and become a gym rat once again. To accompany the dependence, a woman can also suffer from withdrawal and suffer withdrawal symptoms including psychosis, depression, listlessness, apathy, loss of appetite, feelings of anxiety, or experience the "roid rage" previously mentioned. A woman can become forgetful and very distracted when she is using. Sometimes she will be very confused and wonder why she is doing what she is doing or acting the way she is acting. Most of all she won't understand why the things are happening to her the way they are happening. On anabolic steroids a woman will be very mentally unstable. This will affect all aspects of her life including job, family, and relationships. Steroid users report significantly more somatic, depressive, anxiety, hostility and paranoid complaints when using than when they were not. Most psychological effects will be directly related to the distinct chemical structure of the steroids being used. While very few studies have assessed the relationship of androgens to aggression or violent behavior there is a pattern of association between testosterone levels and observed aggression in these studies. Some studies are plainly stating that evidence documenting short term behavioral changes before and after the use of steroids is extremely limited and inconclusive. Researchers are having trouble determining if violent outbursts and psychological changes of a user are really do to the use of steroids or if some psychological problems were present before use and simply brought to the surface by using. Researchers can't establish how mentally stable a woman was before she started using (unless she started using purposely for the study). This then can distort the results of any study conducted. Researchers are suggesting though that aggressive behavior associated with the use of anabolic steroids poses a significant threat on public health.


IV. Functional side effects

       Last, anabolic steroids affect a woman's natural body functions. With an increase in testosterone levels, her hormone levels are far from being in synch. Besides having mean serum testosterone levels around 30 times greater than normal, a woman will have a decrease in sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG- a protein produced in the liver) (Malarkey, Strauss, Leizman, Liggett, Demers; 1991), a decrease in follicle-stimulating hormones, a decrease in circulating HDL-cholesterol, and a decrease in thyroid binding proteins. With these ever changing levels of hormones a woman's immune system is at risk. She can become very vulnerable to infectious diseases and just might be hospitalized by the common cold. One study conducted said that it is possible that anabolic steroids might inhibit the immunomodulatory and antiviral activities of androgens like DHEA (acts on adrenal glands to induce the production of corticosteroids and dehydroepiandrosterone) (Hughes, Rady, Smith; 1998). Also, this study further indicated that anabolic steroids significantly inhibited the production of corticotrophin in blood lymphocytes immediately following a viral infection. Simply stated, they can cause the prevention of antibodies when you get sick and lead to altered immune reactions. Cardiovascular risk factors include the alteration or diminishing of her glucose tolerance and hyperinsulinism (become resistant to insulin), a change in lipoproteins (carry cholesterol in blood) fraction which can cause cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis (deposition of fatty substances onto inner walls of arteries causing blockage), increased triglyceride levels, hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure), changes in her myocardium (middle muscular layer of heart wall), and increased concentration levels of several different clotting factors. Blood clots that form in blood vessel disrupt the flow of blood and can damage the heart muscle. Cardiomyopathy (typically chronic disorder of heart muscle that may involve hypertrophy and obstructive damage to the heart), myocardial infarction (localized death of the myocardium tissue usually leading to heart failure), heart attack, stroke, and cerebro-vascular accidents can occur. Anabolic steroids also affect the liver. They can cause cholestatic jaundice (failure of bile flow that causes yellowish pigmentation of skin, tissues, and body fluids), peliosis hepatis (blood-filled cysts develop on liver), hepatocellular hyperplasia (unusual increase of an epithelial parenchymatous cell called hepatocytes in the liver), and cancer. A woman can develop kidney disease and/ or cancer. A woman's musculoskeletal system is affected as well. She can have a very short stature and tendon rupture will occur frequently since muscle strength is increasing so rapidly that tendons and ligaments can't keep up. A woman's reproductive system is in the line of fire when steroids are in use because of diminished estrogen activity. Her hypothalamis-pituitary-gonadal axis is off balance. With the increase of testosterone circulating, a decline in estrogen and progesterone occurs. Steroid use can result in the inhibition of follicle formation, ovulation, and irregularities of menstrual cycle which can lead to amenorrhea (absence or suppression of the menstrual cycle). A study conducted with 9 female weight-lifters showed all, but 2 women had menstrual abnormalities (Malarkey et al.; 1991). A woman also runs a very high risk of developing cervical and/ or endometrical cancer and uterine atrophy. Pregnant woman using steroids can do much damage to her unborn child causing growth retardation of her fetus and pseudohermanphroditism (a person having both male and female physical body and character traits, can be affected anatomically as well). Infertility can result from an extended period of anabolic steroid use. Other negative side effects include bad breath, water retention, muscle cramps, achy joints, nose bleeds, and insomnia. In summary, taking anabolic steroids increases a woman's risk of cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancer, kidney disease and cancer, a weakened immune system, osteoporosis, and possible HIV and Hepatitis B and/ or C from contaminated needles.


V. Why do women take them?

       There are many reasons why a woman begins using anabolic steroids. Some women believe this will help bring equality to the genders. If women can compete on the same playing field as men then women deserve to be treated as equals. But they believe women can't possibly be contenders with what they were born with. Other women do it for personal gain. They use their body to compete in body-building competitions and this is how they make their money. Some are athletes or even Olympians who compete in professional sports to provide for their family. In these 2 instances, you have to be the best or someone stronger and faster than you will take your place. A few woman have a behavioral syndrome known as muscle dysmorphia where they have a distorted image of their body. They look in the mirror and think "I'm so fat" when in actuality they are in top physical condition. A more serious issue is those women who are using because they feel like they need to protect themselves. Usually these women have experienced physical or sexual abuse whether in their childhood or in a recent relationship. Twice as many women do it because they have been raped and believe "that being bigger and stronger would discourage further attacks because men would find them either intimidating or unattractive ." In one study a total of 75 women were interviewed and of them 10 reported that they had been raped and that instance was the reason they were using anabolic steroids to increase muscle strength and size (Gruber, Pope; 1999). The rape victims in most cases believed that would never be able to trust a man again and replaced these relationships with body building activites. What is even more surprising is that of these 10 women who reported the rape, 5 said that prior to the experience they had no intention of ever using steroids and believed they were a sign of weakness and an unwillingness to achieve goals through hard work. But researchers realize that rape victims will not report experiences such as these to an unfamiliar interviewer. This then can cause an underestimate of the frequency of rape victims in this population (Gruber, Pope; 1999). On the other hand though, a woman can exaggerate the sexual assault, so again researchers can say this study is inconclusive. Women using anabolic steroids justify the use by believing these drugs are necessary to win, the side effects, though sometimes undesirable, are acceptable to them and their friends, and a woman has every right to use them if she so pleases (Strauss et al.; 1985 ). You may know someone who does it for another reason than listed here and that's all right, because this list just skims the surface.


VI. What is steroid abuse?

       "The unwanted consequences of anabolic steroid abuse are most damaging in females (Wu FC; 1997)." For all these reasons (mentioned above) and more, women use anabolic steroids. There is a clear difference though between using them and abusing them. "It has been estimated that hundreds of thousands of people aged 18 and older abuse anabolic steroids at least once a year )." And steroid abuse is growing most rapidly among young women. Abuse of these substances primarily occurs in the younger population where long term effects could manifest during aging process (Hughes et al.; 1998 ). As mentioned earlier, side effects are directly related to the dosage, duration of use, and the type of steroid being taken. Like prescriptions and medications, steroids too come with directions on proper use. A woman who uses steroids is running a risk already, but when the doses are increased and they become more frequent, she is shooting herself in the foot. By developing her own directions for steroids, her chances of suffering the worst case scenarios have risen. Abuse is real. A woman can become dependent on steroids and not even realize it until she is suffering from withdrawal. Usually the aggression known to follow steroid use is a sign of this dependence. Steroids are like any other addictive drug. A woman builds a tolerance and it takes more and more to see the results she wants. Again, with the increased dose she has increased her chances of experiencing the worst side effects of using, some that will remind her of what she has done for the rest of her life.


VII. Conclusion

       In conclusion, the question to use or not to use is a personal one. Its answer though should be preceded by talking to a doctor, a trainer, a nutritionist, and even an user of steroids. Any woman considering taking anabolic steroids should first consider what she might be giving up- the look and feel of a woman, breasts, mental stability, and even giving birth to a healthy baby someday. Do the research and know the facts before you dive into something you know is unfamiliar. It is apparent, though, that anabolic steroids and affects in women is limited to very few journals. Information concerning the legitimate adverse physical and behavioral effects of steroids is often inaccurate and wildly speculative. And how can a woman possibly compare her body to that of a man's and the research conducted on male users. In some instances there are no grounds for comparison. This process for conducting female targeted studied is a difficult one. Compared to men, women are very new to the steroid scene. Weak research design, inadequate instrumentation and measurement, small sample sizes, and inadequate control and placebo groups complicate the studies. Most researchers will define the research they've conducted on the issue of women and the use of steroids by one word- inconclusive. This then should tell women of the world considering using anabolic steroids that using does run the risk of being very dangerous because not enough research has been done therefore not enough information is known to say whether or not steroids are harmful or even fatal in women. Deciding to use anabolic steroids is a decision that could affect a woman for the rest of her life and the only stupid question is the one that goes unasked. Hopefully, this report got you started on the right track.




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Gruber, A.J., Pope, H.G. Jr. (1999) Complusive weight lifting and anabolic drug abuse among women rape victims. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 40, 273-277

Hickson, R.C., Ball, K.L., Falduto M.T. (1989) Adverse effects of anabolic steroids. Med Toxicol Adverse Drug Exp, 4, 254-271

Hughes, T.K. Jr., Rady, P.L., Smith, E.M. (1998) Potential for the effects of anabolic steroid abuse in the immune and neuroendocrine axis. Journal of
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Malarkey, W.B., Strauss, R.H., Leizman, D.J., Liggett, M., Demers, L.M. (1991) Endocrine effects in female weight lifters who self-administer testosterone and
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Wu, F.C. (1997) Endocrine aspects of anabolic steroids. Clinical Chemistry, 43, 1289-1292


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