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Anabolic Steroids, Bodybuilding and Weight Training

What They Are, How They Affect You

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Updated February 26, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The term 'anabolic steroid' usually refers to synthetic substances related to naturally occurring male sex hormones such as testosterone, although testosterone could also be described as an anabolic steroid in the true sense. 'Anabolic' means tissue building. Anabolic agents are potent promoters of protein synthesis and thus are muscle building.

Anabolic steroids are usually also 'androgenic' as well, meaning that they enhance male characteristics - body hair, muscle, male genitalia, deep voice.

List of Anabolic Steroids

This list is not close to complete. New 'designer' steroids are constantly being manufactured. Many on this list are sold under trade names:

  • Oxymetholone
  • Quinbolone
  • Nandrolone
  • Oxandrolone
  • Danazol
  • Methandrostenolone
  • Trenbolone
  • Methenolone
  • Stanozolol
  • Mesterolone
  • Turinabol
  • Fluoxymesterone
  • Furazabol

Adverse Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use

  • Acne and cysts
  • Breast growth and shrinking of testicles in men
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Voice deepening and growth of body hair in women
  • Enlarged clitoris
  • Growth of facial hair, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle in women
  • Heart problems, including heart attack
  • Liver disease, including cancer
  • Aggressive behavior

Continuous use of injected or oral steroids can cause the body to shut down its natural production of testosterone in the testes, thus shrinking them. Breasts can enlarge in men because estrogen is also in the pathway of anabolic steroid metabolism, called 'aromatization.' Steroid users often control this with other drugs.

Anabolic Steroids and Bodybuilders

It's well known that competitive and recreational bodybuilders take steroids to enhance muscle growth -- for competitive or cosmetic advantage. In fact, recreational use of steroids by young men has grown substantially in the last decade or so. In conjunction with steroid use, other anabolic agents and supplements are used, often by men naive in the toxicology and pharmacology of such substances, and who may rely on supplement sellers and other unreliable sources for safety advice. Human growth hormone and precursors, estrogen antagonists and testicle maintenance substances (HCG) are in common usage.

Athletes and Anabolic Steroids

The use of anabolic steroids by athletes, especially athletes for whom speed and strength are important competitive characteristics, has been widespread. Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who won the Olympic 100 metres gold medal in 1988, used stanozolol and was eventually banned. Many other examples exist.

In the modern era, professional athletes tend to avoid the common steroids and use more sophisticated methods, perhaps involving natural testosterone and human growth hormone, which are more difficult to detect in abnormal amounts in urine or blood tests. Anabolic steroids are easily detected, although 'masking' agents have been used with some success.

New synthetic forms of anabolic steroids called 'designer' steroids and testosterone act-alikes are constantly being created in laboratories, making detection by sports-doping authorities more difficult for these substances.

How Steroids are Taken

Anabolic steroids can damage the liver when taken orally; and some are metabolized by enzymes and other digestive factors so that they do not work when taken as a pill. The most effective method of taking most anabolic steroids is by injection, although needles have their own health risks. Transdermal skin absorption is also becoming popular. 'Cycling' is the most popular protocol of use. Cycling involves taking a course of steroids, stopping (to let the body recover normal processes), and then commencing again.

Summing Up

Anabolic steroids are illegal for most sports. The World Anti-Doping Authority and various national drug-testing organizations regulate the illegal use of steroids. Organized and random testing is carried out on athletes.

For recreational consumers of steroids, detrimental health effects for men and women are not uncommon, especially as a result of long-term use.

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