How do Steroids Affect Hormones?
by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert
Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.
Some people take anabolic steroids (AAS) in an attempt to increase muscle mass and performance.
AAS are derived from human hormones and often used in excess to surpass what is naturally possible, but how do they affect the body's secretion of its own hormones?
In this article we shall cover the following points:
- What are anabolic steroids?
- The effects of steroids on the body
- The effects on men
- The effects on women
What are Anabolic Steroids?
AAS are a type of drug frequently used by athletes and other physically active individuals to improve athletic performance or build muscle mass.
These drugs are remarkably similar to hormones produced and occur naturally in the body.
Mainly, AAS are a synthetic version of the testosterone hormone. They work by increasing the amount of protein made in cells.
As a result, steroids help to improve muscle growth and strength, giving athletic individuals a more prized and muscular-looking figure.
AAS also have a number of other effects on the body, including an increase in red blood cells and an improvement in bone density.
These steroids are often taken in many different delivery modes, such as pills, injections, or topical creams.
At times taking steroids is beneficial and for essential medical purposes. A set amount or physiological dose is administered in these conditions like muscle wasting diseases.
However, many young athletes may be hooked up to use 10 to 100 times higher than doses used for standard medical treatments.
Consequently, taking steroids regularly may cause severe repercussions in the form of diseases and disabilities.
The Effects of Steroids on Our Hormones
It's well-known that steroids can have a profound effect on the body's various structures.
But what is less understood is how steroids can impact other hormones in the body beyond just testosterone.
The hormonal system in humans is very intricate and interconnected. A single hormonal imbalance almost always affects all other hormones and subsequently each body tissue.
A typical hormone imbalance can be seen when a woman experiences the menopause.
Steroids being the synthetic form of testosterone, the male sex hormone, have the most significant effects on sex hormones.
Firstly, the body's endogenous testosterone levels decrease dramatically. A condition that is evident years after cessation of steroid abuse.
Moreover, estrogen levels increase due to an increase in the activity of the enzyme aromatase. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen.
Consequently, steroids cause various effects, from decreased sperm production to testicular atrophy (reduced size of testicles).
Some irreversible side effects of steroids include male-pattern baldness and gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in men).
Moreover, decreased libido and infertility are expected after the abuse of steroids.
Also, the use of steroids may cause severe cystic acne in erupting on the face and back, which can leave permanent scars.
Looking individually at various hormones, taking steroids (such as methandrostenolone) can cause an increase in the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Steroids block the effect of cortisol on multiple tissues. At the start, this helps increase the muscle protein.
Eventually, the brain senses it as decreased cortisol levels and ramps up cortisol production in the adrenal gland.
This can lead to many issues, including increased anxiety, insomnia, and even depression.
Moreover, cortisol exerts catabolic effects (protein diminishing), which appear to decrease muscle mass, strength, and obesity over time.
Other issues include increased blood pressure, reduced immunity, and much more.
Steroids can also interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, are among the most significant hormones.
They are synthesized in the thyroid gland that is present in the neck. These hormones are essential for many processes in the body, including metabolism and growth.
Thyroid hormones can also affect mood and energy levels.
AAS are associated with a decrease in thyroid levels or hypothyroidism.
This decrease leads to decreased metabolic rate, weight gain, excessive sleepiness, etc.
One of the worst side-effects is weakness and obesity, which is counterintuitive to the whole use of steroids.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include excessive sleepiness, depression, menstrual problems.
Steroids also impair insulin resistance in the body. Anabolic hormones tend to raise the glucose levels in the blood, which encourages an increase in the body's insulin levels.
Ultimately, the tissues become resistant to the effect of insulin due to continuous administration of steroids.
Consequently, high insulin levels and raised blood sugar can trigger diabetes. And it is well known that diabetes is the root cause of many fatal conditions.
So, as you can see, the effects of steroids on hormones can be far-reaching and potentially quite harmful.
Apart from hormonal disturbances, the use of steroids is strongly associated with diseases like liver failure, cardiomyopathy, or sudden cardiac death.
The Effect of Steroids on Men
The use of anything in excess is seen to be harmful. The use of steroids warrants a similar effect.
Currently, there is no evidence-based dose that can be used for enhancing athletic performance.
While there are apparent effects like muscle growth and peaked athletic energy, it should be kept in mind that any external hormonal input can have dangerous consequences.
The Effects of Steroids on Women
Steroids can have a variety of effects on women's health as well.
While steroids can have positive effects, such as increasing muscle mass and strength, they can also have adverse side effects, including decreased libido and issues with reaching an orgasm.
The use of steroids causes similar effects as seen in men. Steroid-induced drastic changes include menstrual abnormalities, e.g., heavy or light bleeding, cramps, etc.
The more problematic fact is the increase in the risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer.
Women may even develop baldness as the use of steroids increases in time and dosage.
Breast size is also seen to reduce in females along with thickening and darkening of the skin.
It is crucial for women who are considering using steroids to be aware of these potential risks and make an informed decision about whether the benefits outweigh the potential dangers.
The hormonal chemistry in humans is very intricate and sensitive to external stimuli.
Anything that disrupts this delicate leads to hormonal imbalances - the root problems for many diseases.
Steroids are perfect for disrupting the intricate hormonal balance. From disturbing the sex hormones to thyroid hormone balance, taking steroids can have far-reaching effects on hormones.
If you are considering using AAS, please be aware of the risks and consult a doctor before starting any type of steroid cycle.
Remember, there is no such thing as a safe AAS – all steroids carry some level of risk. Be safe, stay informed, and enjoy your bodybuilding journey!