Anabolic Steroid Use in Bodybuilding and Weightlifting

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The term anabolic steroid usually refers to synthetic substances related to naturally occurring male sex hormones such as testosterone, which itself could 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 androgenic, meaning that they enhance male characteristics—body hair, muscle, male genitalia, and deep voice.

Anabolic steroids are prescription drugs with medical uses including the treatment of delayed puberty, wasting conditions, and osteoporosis. But they are often illegally used without a prescription by bodybuilders and weightlifters, as well as those competing in various sports.

List of Anabolic Steroids

In addition to these common steroids, 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

Anabolic steroids can exert various effects on the body including the following:

  • 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
  • Erectile dysfunction

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 (gynecomastia) because estrogen is also in the pathway of anabolic steroid metabolism, called aromatization. The breast growth may be irreversible without plastic surgery. Steroid users often try to control this with other drugs.

Human growth hormone and precursors, estrogen antagonists, and testicle maintenance substances (HCG) are in common usage. The side effects are generally worse with oral anabolic steroids and those containing 17-alky.

Recreational use of steroids by young men has grown substantially. 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.

Use by Athletes

The use of anabolic steroids by athletes, especially athletes for whom speed and strength are important competitive characteristics, has been widespread. The effects of increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat are desirable in a variety of sports and in competitive bodybuilding. Steroid use in sport is illegal and athletes may be tested for them. Among many other examples, Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who won the Olympic 100 meters gold medal in 1988, used stanozolol and was eventually banned.

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

When taken orally (in pill form), there is a greater risk of liver damage and some anabolic steroids are broken down in the stomach and digestive tract so that they do not work. Because of this, the most effective method of taking many anabolic steroids is by injection, although needles have their own health risks. Creams and gels that are absorbed through the skin are also popular.

Stacking is a pattern of use of taking two or more oral or injectable types of steroids in hopes of better results. Doses are variable and may be many times the dose given therapeutically for various medical conditions.

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. This may be done with pyramid doses, with smaller doses that are slowly increased to a peak, then slowly decreased to stop.

A Word From Verywell

Anabolic steroids are banned in 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 common, especially as a result of long-term use.

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