Testicles Shrinking and Steroids: The Facts

by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert

Ben Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert Sports and Exercise Nutrition Level 2 Strength and Conditioning CoachWritten by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.

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When steroids are discussed, one of the most common questions is if they shrink your testicles. 

This article's purpose is not to make fun of steroid users. It is intended to give you an objective look at the links and research between steroid usage and shrinkage of testicles. 

This article is for you if you're concerned about the possible side effects of steroid cycle or just want to know the potential risks. 

This article will teach you: 

  • What is Testicular Atrophy?
  • Testosterone and steroids
  • Will anabolic steroids reduce your genital size?
  • Side effects
  • Can your testes regenerate after taking steroids?
  • Alternatives to anabolic steroids

What is Testicular Atrophy?

The proper name for the shrinkage of your testicles is testicular atrophy. This is a condition in which the testicles begin healthy but slowly shrink. It could be due to age, an injury, inguinal hematoma, or autoimmune disease. This condition is often accompanied by loss of functionality. 

Many bodybuilders have smaller testes than 'prepubertal boys,' according to research [1]. 

Leydig and germ cells are the two main cell types that make up testicles. Leydig cells produce testosterone and germ cells produce sperm. 

When cell production is evenly distributed, the testes will remain round, full and firm. Testicular atrophy occurs when cell production - of either type of cell - decreases. 

The testicles lose their firmness, size and shape when they atrophy. 

Use of anabolic steroids and testosterone

To get the best out of this section, you will need to understand a few terms. We assume that you are familiar with steroids and their actions. If you don't know what they do or how they work, we recommend you take a look at the information provided here. 

Both amateur and professional athletes use steroids (also known as Androgenic Anabolic Steroids, AAS) on a regular basis [2]. There are side effects. 

The side effect of prolonged use of steroids is smaller testes. This is reported both anecdotally as well as in research. 

The way that testosterone production is regulated in the body is via the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonodal axis (HPG). The hypothalamus, pituitary and testes are all part of this aspect of the reproductive organs. 

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HPG works in a feedback loop. If you don't produce enough T, the hypothalamus will stimulate you to do so. If you make too much of it, then production is suppressed. The hypothalamus will send signals to your testicles when you are taking steroids. This is because the levels of T in the bloodstream become so high. 

When you inject so much T exogenously into your system, as with the use of AAS, your testicles will respond by becoming essentially dormant. This can lead to a variety of adverse effects, including a loss of sexual desire, erection problems, and smaller testes. 

Will steroids shrink your genitals?

The majority of data about bodybuilders and steroid use, as well as testicular atrophy come from individual case studies rather than longitudinal or cohort research. 

In a report on a 30-year-old bodybuilder who collapsed at home after weight-training, the side effects were found to be abnormal muscle growth, liver problems, and testicular atrophies. He used AAS for six months. 

There are also further reports which show negative effects. 

In one study, 100 athletes who used steroids were asked to fill out a questionnaire in order for them to be able identify their side effects and regimens. Eighty-eight percent of volunteers reported side effects related to steroid use. Forty-percent of them cited testicular atrophy. It was the second most common side effect, after acne. 

In a similar study, which included 207 bodybuilders who had a history with steroids [5], a number of adverse effects, including acne, gynecomastia and abnormal hair growth, were also reported. One-eighth of the people surveyed reported having testicular atrophy, which is 17 out of 207. 

Steroids and Testicular Atrophy

The Leydig cells are responsible for the shrinkage of the testes when anabolic steroids are used. 

Side effects

The Journal of Urology states that exogenous testosterone causes a variety of effects on spermatogenesis in men. 

You can expect that your semen (quality and volume) will plummet when you take higher doses. This may cause infertility later in life. 

You can expect your libido and ability to get erections to decrease as T levels drop and tests shrink. 

In a study published in Life Sciences [6] on the use of high doses of steroids by 30 bodybuilders, only 17.7% had normal levels. 

Can your testes grow in size again?

In most cases the shrinkage of your balls is temporary. When you stop supplying AAS to your body, HPG will begin to make its own, which allows for the testes and sperm to grow again. 

It is worth noting however that the time taken for full recover could be as long as a few months and whilst the changes in these hormones are reversible after discontinued use, the long-term effects on the hypothalamus-pituitary-testicular axis are still unknown [6]. 

The recovery process is a simple one: 'the larger the dose, longer it takes'. You may never fully recover if you have taken massive AAS doses for an extended period. 

Post-cycle therapy can help speed your recovery by using a T booster such as Military Muscle, which contains D-Aspartic Acid (DAA), a substance that has been clinically shown to increase T by 30-60% on average. This amino acid stimulates the testes, causing them to produce more T. It also boosts seminal counts by as much as 100%. 

Summary of Steroids and Testicular Atrophy

Testicular atrophy is the correct term for shrinking testicles. It's a condition in which testes begin healthy but slowly reduce their size. 

The Leydig cell decreases the natural release of testosterone when T levels are high. This leads to loss in size, shape and firmness of your testes. 

Along with testicular atrophy, you will also likely see loss in libido and erection as well as seminal quantity and quality. 

For most, the effects of steroids are only temporary. Most people will recover completely within several months. If high doses of steroids are taken over a long period, the effects may not be reversible.

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References

  1. Coward, RM et al.  Vasectomy Reversal Outcomes in Men Previously on Testosterone Supplementation Therapy. Urology. 2014; 84: 1335-1341
  2. Delbeke FT, Desmet N, Debackere M (1995) The abuse of doping agents in competing body builders in Flanders (1988‚Äď 1993). Int J Sports Med 16:66‚Äď70
  3. Fineschi, V et al.¬†Sudden cardiac death during anabolic steroid abuse: morphologic and toxicologic findings in two fatal cases of bodybuilders.¬†Int J Legal Med (2007) 121: 48‚Äď53
  4. Evans, NA. Gym and tonic: a prfile of 100 male steroid users. BrJ Sports Med 1997; 31: 54-58
  5. Perry, P et al. Anabolic steroid use in weightlifters and body builders. Clin J Sports Med. 2005
  6. Torres-Calleja J, Gonzalez-Unzaga M, DeCelis-Carrillo R, et al. Effect of androgenic anabolic steroids on sperm quality and serum hormone levels in adult male bodybuilders. Life Sci. 2001; 68: 1769-74
  7. D‚ÄôAniello, G et al.¬†D-aspartate, a key element for the improvement of sperm quality. Adv. Sex. Med. 2012; 2: 47‚Äď53