Are Steroids Growth Hormones?
by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert
Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
There is a lot of confusion about the difference between steroids and growth hormones, and many people believe that they are the same thing.
However, steroids and growth hormones are quite different. They do have some similar effects, like increased muscle growth, but they work on almost entirely different mechanisms.
The confusion can be attributed to the fact that athletes abuse or ‘dope’ both growth hormones and steroids for increasing athletic performance, especially in international competitions.
In this article we shall look at the following areas:
- What are steroids?
- What are growth hormones?
- Comparison of the two
What Are Steroids?
Steroids are synthetic versions of the hormones produced in the body. They are a type of drug used to improve athletic performance or body composition.
Steroids can be taken orally, injected, or applied as a cream or gel.
There are many different types of steroids, but the most commonnly used amongst athletes and gym goers are anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone.
Understanding the role of testosterone in the body helps comprehend the effects of exogenous (externally administered) steroids.
Testosterone is anabolic, and the word anabolic refers to a process in which the end goal is a synthesis of a product.
It is opposite to catabolic reactions, which refer to breaking down any tissue of the body.
Normally, testosterone increases muscle growth, sperm production, testicular size, red blood cells, bone mass, and athletic performance.
It is also the primary hormone responsible for secondary male characteristics, e.g., beard, thickening of the skin, and deepening of the voice.
Steroids work by increasing the amount of muscle protein synthesis. Using anabolic steroids means that the muscles can grow and repair themselves faster than usual.
Additionally, steroids can decrease the amount of fat in the body. This is because steroid hormones can bind to receptors in fat cells and increase their breakdown.
They also are responsible for things like muscle growth and hair growth.
While steroids have some benefits, they also come with risks. Some of the risks associated with steroid use include a reduction of HDL cholesterol which can lead to the development of heart disease, liver disease, and kidney damage.
Additionally, steroids can cause mood swings and aggression. Finally, long-term steroid use can lead to infertility, decreased sexual function, and gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in males).
Women may experience deepening of the voice, facial hair growth, infertility, and irregular menstrual cycles.
What Are Growth Hormones?
Growth hormone (GH) is a type of hormone naturally produced in the pituitary gland of the human body.
GH is the hormone that stimulates growth and cell reproduction. They are essential for developing and maintaining many tissues in the body, including bone, muscle, and organ tissue.
Growth hormone (GH) is a protein hormone in nature compared to steroids composed of fat (cholesterol).
The effects of GH are produced in all parts of the body, but bones have the most pronounced effects.
As its name suggests, GH is the primary hormone that causes linear growth or increases a person’s height.
Athletes often use GH supplements as a ‘safer’ option than steroids. It is thought that growth hormone can have similar anabolic effects to steroids with fewer side effects.
Despite GH’s growth-stimulating effects, these facts are not backed up by clinical studies, and they are mostly a myth.
Growth hormone levels can be affected by various factors, including age, diet, exercise, and stress levels.
Fluctuation in the number of growth hormones can lead to multiple health problems.
Some common symptoms of growth hormone deficiency include slowed growth, short stature, fatty build-up around the neck and shoulders, and low energy levels.
Cardiomegaly is the more problematic condition as an enlarged heart can lead to sudden cardiac death.
Comparable Facts about Steroids and Growth Hormone (GH)
Human growth hormone and steroids are both used to improve athletic performance, but there are some critical differences between them.
GH is a naturally occurring hormone that is produced. It helps stimulate growth and cell reproduction in all tissues of the body, especially bones.
Steroids, on the other hand, are synthetic hormones that mimic testosterone. They are often used to increase muscle mass and strength.
The key scientific difference between steroids is their chemical composition. Steroids are derivatives of fat, more specifically cholesterol.
On the other hand, GH is a hormone derived from protein. A different chemical composition intuitively warrants a different mechanism of action and diverse effects.
Today, there is a widespread use of both steroids and growth hormones in the fitness industry, especially by young males.
Both of these hormones are primarily anabolic, i.e., they stimulate growth. According to current literature, however, it is known that GH is not very useful in promoting muscle growth and athletic performance.
The only practical effect of GH backed up by science is for the elderly and diseased people with muscle wasting.
Due to its beneficial effect and low-risk profile, doctors often prescribe growth hormone in conditions like stunted growth, AIDS or HIV patients, and patients with chronic diseases.
The elderly can also benefit from approved doses of GH as it decreases muscle wasting and maintains athletic performance.
Contrarily, steroids dramatically increase protein synthesis. They are instrumental in stimulating new muscle growth and repairing the old muscle cells.
Moreover, they have a pronounced effect on the body’s fat cells and cause fat breakdown – making you look leaner.
Growth hormone has similar results, but the magnitude is far less than anabolic steroids.
Also, anabolic hormones are only prescribed in conditions characterized by testosterone deficiency, i.e., to promote sexual maturity and prevent infertility.
Why Is It So Easy to Confuse the Two?
There are several reasons people might confuse growth hormone (GH) and steroids.
They both have anabolic effects (meaning they help build muscle and other tissues), but they work in different ways and can have different side effects.
Both GH and steroids are often administered via injection, commonly associated with synthetic performance-enhancing drugs.
Additionally, steroids and GH cause a surge of glucose in the injected area that is often perceived as a high. This is one the reasons both drugs are addictive.
While anabolic steroids and GH may seem like a shortcut to the body you desire, the risks are simply not worth it.
Not only can they have dangerous long-term side effects, but they can cause you serious legal trouble depending on the law in your region.
If you’re looking to build muscle mass and don’t want to risk your health, stick with natural methods and a good diet and exercise routine.