Dominic has baseball on the brain. Just being good isn't
enough - he wants to be the best. He dreams of playing in the
majors someday, but worries about the intense competition for a
position on a major league team. His girlfriend, Deborah, is also a
highly competitive athlete whose appearance and performance are
very important to her. She wants to stand out - both physically and
Because of the pressure they each feel to excel, Dominic and
Deborah wonder whether steroids would help them. They've heard
rumors about the bad side effects of steroids, but they don't
have many facts. Here's the scoop on steroids.
What Are Steroids?
Steroids, sometimes referred to as roids, juice, hype, weight
trainers, gym candy, arnolds, stackers, or pumpers, are the same
as, or similar to, certain hormones in the body. The body produces
steroids naturally to support such functions as fighting stress and
promoting growth and development. But some people use steroid
pills, gels, creams, or injections because they think steroids can
improve their sports performance or the way they look.
are artificially produced hormones that are the same as, or similar
, the male-type sex hormones in the body. There are more than 100
variations of anabolic steroids. The most powerful androgen is
-tuh-rone). Although testosterone is mainly a mature male hormone,
girls' bodies produce smaller amounts. Testosterone promotes
the masculine traits that guys develop during puberty, such as
deepening of the voice and growth of body hair. Testosterone levels
can also affect how aggressive a person is.
Athletes sometimes take anabolic steroids because of their
Another group of steroids, sometimes called
, contains dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and/or androstenedione
(also known as andro). For the most part, steroidal supplements,
which used to be found at health food stores or gyms, are now
illegal and require a prescription. DHEA is one of the few
exceptions and can still be bought over the counter.
Steroid supplements are weaker forms of androgen. Their effects
aren't well known, but it's thought that, when taken in
large doses, they cause effects similar to other androgens like
testosterone. Here's what
known about steroidal supplements: Companies that manufacture them
often use false claims and very little is known about the long-term
effects some of these substances have on the body. That's one
reason why the government took action to protect citizens by
passing laws controlling steroid distribution.
How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?
Anabolic steroids stimulate muscle tissue to grow and "bulk
up" in response to training by mimicking the effect of
naturally produced testosterone on the body. Anabolic steroids can
remain in the body anywhere from a couple of days to about a year.
Steroids have become popular because they may improve endurance,
strength, and muscle mass. However, research has not shown that
steroids improve skill, agility, or athletic performance.
Dangers of Steroids
Anabolic steroids cause many different types of problems. Some
of the more serious or long-lasting side effects are:
- premature balding or hair loss
- mood swings, including anger, aggression, and depression
- believing things that aren't true (delusion)
- extreme feelings of mistrust or fear (paranoia)
- problems sleeping
- nausea and vomiting
- high blood pressure that can damage the heart or blood
vessels over time
- aching joints
- greater chance of injuring muscles and tendons
- jaundice or yellowing of the skin; liver damage
- urinary problems
- shortening of final adult height
- increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and some
types of cancer
Risks for Girls
Specific risks for girls associated with anabolic steroids
- increased facial hair growth
- development of masculine traits, such as deepening of the
voice, and loss of feminine body characteristics, such as
shrinking of the breasts
- enlargement of the clitoris
- menstrual cycle changes
Risks for Guys
Specific risks for guys include:
- testicular shrinkage
- pain when urinating
- breast development
- impotence (inability to get an erection)
- sterility (inability to have children)
Steroids can also have serious psychological side effects. Some
users become aggressive or combative, developing "roid
rage" - extreme, uncontrolled bouts of anger caused by
long-term steroid use.
Steroid users who inject the drugs with a needle are at risk for
infection with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that
causes AIDS, if they share needles with other users. People who use
dirty needles are also at greater risk for contracting hepatitis, a
disease of the liver, or bacterial endocarditis, an infection of
the inner lining of the heart.
Steroids: Stacking and Addiction
Some people combine or "stack" anabolic steroids with
other drugs. Other steroid users may "pyramid" or
"cycle" their steroid doses, starting with a low dose of
stacked drugs and then periodically increasing and decreasing the
dosage of the steroid, which users believe helps their bodies
recuperate from the drugs.
Because even scientists don't understand exactly how
steroids interact with each other or possibly cause reactions to
other medications, it's possible that a person who stacks or
cycles steroids can take a deadly combination. Emergency
departments have reported cases of vomiting, tremors, dizziness,
and even coma (unconsciousness) when patients were admitted after
taking combinations of steroids.
A lot of people tell themselves they'll only use steroids
for a season or a school year. Unfortunately, steroids can be
addictive, making it hard to stop taking them.
Steroid users can spend lots of time and money trying to get the
drugs. And once users stop taking steroids, they're at risk of
developing irritability, paranoia, and severe depression, which may
lead to suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide. Some of the
long-term effects of steroids may not show up for many years.
People who use steroids also appear to be at higher risk for using
other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine.
What Is Human Growth Hormone?
You may have heard of something called Human Growth Hormone, or
hGH, in relation to sports supplements and maybe even related to
steroids. Like steroids, hGH is only legal when prescribed by a
doctor for a medical condition. Doctors prescribe hGH for people
whose bodies don't naturally make enough growth hormone, a
condition known as growth hormone deficiency. However, recent
trends show an increase in growth hormone being abused as an
A lot of myths surround hGH and its effects on athletes. As with
steroids, there is absolutely no evidence that growth hormone helps
to improve athletic performance. Here are some risks you should be
- Any type of hGH that is not obtained by prescription is not
regulated by the government and could be almost anything.
- If you buy what may be called "growth hormone,"
"growth stimulators," or "growth factors"
online, it's likely they're not really hGH. Many websites
claim to be selling growth hormone, but they're really
selling amino acids that don't significantly increase growth
hormone levels in your body.
- If the false claims of performance benefits from hGH
don't bother you, the price probably will - $5,000 for a
month's prescription, meaning that the street value for just
a month could run anywhere from $5,000-$10,000.
- Because growth hormone can only be injected, like some
steroids, there's a risk of contracting HIV or other diseases
(like hepatitis) if people share needles.
Alternatives to Steroids
Anabolic steroids are controversial in the sports world because
of the health risks associated with them and their unproven
performance benefits. Most are illegal and are banned by
professional sports organizations and medical associations. As seen
in the high-profile cases, if an athlete is caught using steroids,
his or her career can be destroyed.
When it comes right down to it, harming your body or getting
disqualified aren't smart ways to try to improve your athletic
performance. Being a star athlete means training the healthy way:
eating the right foods
, practicing, and
without the use of drugs.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2009
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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