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Anabolic Steroids: Is It Worth It?
By: Alika Moitra
In today’s society, athletes are revered as heroes. There is immense pressure to be the best. Athletes are willing to do whatever it takes to gain an edge, even if it means compromising their health. For almost three decades, athletes have been supplementing their strength program with anabolic steroids to enhance their performance. To be sure, anabolic steroids are effective supplements to strength training programs, but there is no doubt that the consequences can be deleterious.
What are Anabolic Steroids and how do they work?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. Most healthy males produce 2-10 milligrams per day of testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for muscle development, facial hair growth, and deepening of the voice. The hormone produces these results when it is absorbed from the bloodstream by certain types of cells. Molecules of testosterone fit into receptor sites located inside the cells, just as a key fits into a lock. When the receptor site is filled , the cell is activated. There are a certain number of receptor sites in each cell. If only a few them get filled, the cell will respond at a low level. If all of these sites are filled, the cell produces its maximum response (http://www.bigsport.com/steroids/steroids/roidblla.txt).
Anabolic steroids can be injected or consumed in tablet form. Injectable steroids can be divided into two categories, oils and waters. Unlike waters, oils are longer lasting anabolic steroids. They are usually injected directly into a muscle, usually the buttocks, and are released slowly over time. Nandrolone, an injectable steroid, is designed to last for 17 days (http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hsr/hsr/winter97/steroid.html). Most abusers take them in cycles of weeks, stopping for a period and then starting again. Users often utilize a dangerous practice known as stacking, the combination several different types of steroids to maximize their effectiveness (http://www.nashville.net/~acarney/8html).
Anabolic steroids cause enzymes, such as RNA polymerase, to promote two important biochemical reactions, creatine phosphate synthesis and protein synthesis. Creatine phosphate is a molecule that can be metabolized in the absence of sufficient oxygen as a short term energy source. Increased creatine phosphate synthesis enables athletes to train harder and for longer periods of time. Protein synthesis is increased as the newly formed receptor-steroid complex migrates to the nucleus and initiates transcription. The production of RNA is elevated, causing an increased rate of protein synthesis (http://www.bigsport.com/steroids/steroids/roidb11a.txt).
Anabolic steroids increase the body’s ability to retain nitrogen. By allowing for better utilization of the nitrogen in ingested protein, anabolic steroids help athletes to build body mass (http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hsr/hsr/winter97/steroid.html). In order for an athlete to accumulate extra muscle mass, his or her body must temporarily be in a state of positive nitrogen balance; more nitrogen must come into the body than is lost. During strenuous exercise, the release of glucocorticosteroids creates a negative nitrogen balance in the body. Anabolic steroids can reverse this effect, leading to a positive nitrogen balance and faster gains in muscle mass (http://www.bigsport.com/steroids/steroid/roidb11b.txt).
What Claims are Made About Anabolic Steroids?
Possession and distribution of anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes are illegal under Federal law, yet their use is widespread. Companies are advertising steroids as a supplement which will cut, define, and tone the body. In as little as two months, an athlete can experience a thirty pound or greater long term gain in lean muscle mass and can drastically reduce body fat with few, if any, harmful side effects (http://www.elitefitness.com/steroids.docoffer.html).
Are the Benefits of Anabolic Steroids Backed by Scientific Proof?
The American College of Sports Medicine states that anabolic steroids can result in small but significant increases in strength in some but not all individuals (Celotti, 1992). Fahey and Brown (1973; in Wright, 1980) conducted a comprehensive, well controlled double blind investigation in which they matched two groups of 14 male inexperienced athletes on the basis of weight and strength and placed all subjects on a rigorous weight-training program. Half of the subjects received injections of Nandrolone Decanoate. Circumferences of chest, arm, waist, and thigh were measured as were body composition and work capacity. The authors concluded that the dosage had no significant effect on muscle size, strength, body composition, or aerobic capacity. Stromme, Meen and Aavaag (1974, in Wright, 1980) extended the findings of Fahey and Brown (1973) using higher drug dosages, a higher total work load, and nutritional supplementation. Although changes in isometric knee-hip and trunk extension strength, thigh circumference, and body weight tended to favor the subjects receiving the drug, no significant differences were found in any variable (Wright, 1980). The majority of studies on inexperienced weight trainers indicate that lean body weight, strength, and aerobic power are unlikely to change by the ingestion of anabolic steroids.
It is widely recognized that overload exercise, such as weight training, will increase muscular development and lean body mass by itself. If the soleus and plantaris muscles of a rat are overloaded, the muscles will show marked and rapid increased in weight and protein synthesis. This type of hypertrophy can occur in male animals that have had their pituitaries removed and are deprived of normal levels of growth hormone and testosterone. Therefore, it appears that high levels of androgen are not required for muscle increase.
The majority of reports which used subjects with weight training experience reveal that anabolic steroids enable individuals to gain body weight and strength more rapidly then training alone. O’Shea (1971; in Wright, 1980) studied 20 weightlifters, aged 19-26, all with at least one year of training experience. Subjects received 10mg of Dianabol per day. Results demonstrated a significant difference in the body weight and bench press gains in the Dianabol group. Improvements in squatting strength, although 30 percent greater in the steroid group, were not statistically different (Wright, 1980). The data on strength indicate that anabolic steroids are effective when taken by experienced weight trainers in conjunction with a program of heavy resistance exercise. The reason for the different findings compared to inexperienced subjects is unknown (Laurent & Millward, 1980). It is possible, that if experienced subjects train harder than inexperienced individuals, a greater degree of muscle hypoxia, ischemia or acidosis might be produced which could result in a more pronounced muscle protein breakdown (Wright, 1980)
Loughton and Ruhling (1977; in Wright 1980) recently studied the effects of anabolic drugs in conjunction with a six week cardiovascular endurance/muscle strength training program. While all groups gained significantly in body weight, the results of the study showed that the drug groups significantly outgained the placebo groups 7.9% vs. 4.1% (Wright, 1980). Essentially, muscle strength can be improved by the use of anabolic steroids, but this seems to be more prominent in individuals with previous strength training experience.
Are Anabolic Steroids Accompanied by Harmful Side Effects?
The use of anabolic steroids is accompanied by long term hazards. The adverse effects of steroids outweigh the benefits of weight gain and strength.
Most people who take anabolic steroids experience skin and hair changes. The skin has an oily appearance and may be accompanied by the development of acne.
Adolescents who take steroids in early and mid-puberty can suffer premature closure of the epiphyses, resulting in permanent short stature.
Women may suffer from premature balding. They also experience a decrease in breast size due to excess testosterone. Women develop menstrual irregularities, deepening of their voices, excess facial hair, clitoral enlargement, and uterine atrophy. Many of these symptoms are irreversible even after termination of steroid use (Lamb, 1984).
Men suffer from impotence, ejaculatory problems, and decreased sperm counts. Anabolic steroids inhibit the release of follicle stimulating hormones and luteinizing hormone from the pituitary which results in testicular atrophy and decreased production of natural testosterone. In one study, testicular atrophy was apparent in 8 of 20 body builders who used steroids (Lamb, 1984).
NIDA supported research shows that aggression and other psychiatric side effects may result from anabolic steroid abuse. Researchers report that steroid abuse can cause wild mood swings including manic-like symptoms leading to violent, even homicidal acts. Depression may occur when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to steroid dependence. Researchers reported that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment (http://www.nashville.net/~acarney/8html).
Depending on the type of anabolic steroid used, the amount and length of time can lead to liver damage. When the liver is under stress, increased amounts of certain chemicals are found in the bloodstream. Anabolic steroid abusers have up to twice the level of these chemicals in their blood compared to non-users. Liver cells are damaged as the liver attempts to break down the foreign agents. There are changes in the structure of the liver with continued use, and the liver’s ability to rid the body of wastes is decreased (http://www.bigsport.com/steroids/steroids/roidb11b.txt).
Heart disease and strokes are not uncommon in relatively young steroid users. Steroid abuse leads to hardening of the arteries. Steroid use causes decreased elastin and increased collagen in the walls of their blood vessels. The stiffening of arterial walls can lead to heart attacks (www.bigsport.com/steroids/steroids.roidb11b.txt).
The Final Word
The use of steroids appears to be effective in increasing body mass and strength when taken in conjunction with a strength training program. Although, anabolic steroids can improve athletic performance, the effects are disastrous. Many steroid abusers believe they are invincible. Twenty years from now, they will realize that this is simply not true. Today’s athletes will be suffering the effects of steroid use and wondering if the victory was worth it.
Celotti, F., Negri Cesi, P. (1992). Anabolic steroids: A review of their effects on the muscles, of their possible mechanisms of action and of their use in athletics. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry, 43(5), 469-477.
Goldman, B. ( 1984). Death in the Locker Room: Steroids and Sports. Indiana: Icarus Press.
Lamb, D.R. (1984). Anabolic steroids in athletics: How well do they work and how dangerous are they? The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 12(1),31-37.
Levandowski, R., McInerney, V., Scott, D. (1991). Anabolic Steroids: Performance Enhancers? New Jersey Journal of Medicine, 88(9), 663-664.
Wright, J.E. (1980). Anabolic Steroids and Athletics. Exercise Sport Science Review, 8, 149-202.
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