Anabolic steroids (AS) are particularly used by athletes, weightlifters and bodybuilders to enhance their performance. The trade off, however, is there might occur some adverse side effects of steroid intake which might jeopardize one’s health. This is so because AS affects several organ systems in a human body and hence a myriad of side effects can be found. Ideally, the orally administered AS is seen to be more hazardous than the ones parenterally administered. Thus anabolic steroids should not only be taken by keeping in mind their advantages, but their adverse effects as well. For instance, the AS containing a 17-alkyl group is potentially more dangerous for the liver. However, the severity of side effects of anabolic steroids is quite variable and is dependent on several factors such as type of the drug, dosage, duration of use and individual’s sensitivity and response mechanism.
Detailed Analyses of Effects!
The effect of Anabolic steroids on liver function has been researched and studied extensively by taking into regard real-time cases and patients treated for prolonged periods for diseases such as anemia, renal insufficiency, impotence, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland in particular. Anabolic Steroids are indeed seen to adversely exert profound effect on the liver. This specifically holds true for orally administered AS. Injectable anabolic steroids such as testosterone cypionate and testosterone enanthate do not affect the liver much. However, in some cases, after injection of testosterone esters, lesions of the liver have been reported after parenteral nor-testosterone administration.
In clinical trials, treatment with anabolic steroids has most commonly resulted in decreased hepatic excretory function, intra hepatic cholestasis leading to itch and jaundice and hepatic peliosis. Hepatic peliosis is a state which leads to hemorrhagic cystic degeneration of the liver. If the cyst ruptures, it may lead to fibrosis and portal hypertension. In severe cases of administration of anabolic steroids in athletes, benign (adenoma’s) and malign tumors (hepatocellular carcinoma) have also been reported. But studies reveal that tumors of the liver are caused only when anabolic steroids containing 17-alpha-alkyl groups are taken. Usually these abnormalities remain asymptomatic because peliosis hepatis and liver tumors do not always cause abnormalities in the blood variables which are generally used to measure liver function.
Researchers have associated the use of AS with increased plasma activity of liver enzymes such as lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), gamma glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and alkaline phosphatase (AP). These enzymes are present in the hepatocytes in relatively high concentrations and an increase in plasma levels of these enzymes results in hepatocellular damage.
AS and The Male Reproductive System
Anabolic steroids are the derivatives of testosterone and hence, indeed have strong genitotropic effects. This is to say that the application of anabolic steroids leads to supra-physiological concentrations of testosterone or testosterone which in turn decreases the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) as well as the follicle stimulation hormone (FSH). Excessive use of anabolic steroids in relatively high doses can also lead to hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism.
Thus one should bear in mind that the duration, dosage, and chemical structure of the anabolic steroids are extremely important for the serum concentrations of gonadotropins. Even a slight decrease of gonadotropin secretion can causes atrophy of the testes, as well as sperm cell production.
Besides, oligo, azoospermia and a prolific increase in the number of abnormal sperm cells have also been reported in athletes using AS, which eventually results in decreased fertility. However, after the intake of AS is stopped, the gonadal functions are restored within a few months.
AS and the Female Reproductive System
Small amount of testosterones are also produced in a normal female body. Similar to what happens with males, increased administration of AS can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis in females as well. The increased levels of circulating androgens inhibit the production LH and FSH, eventually resulting in lowering the serum levels of estrogen and progesterone. This might lead to inhibition of follicle formation, ovulation, and irregularities in the menstrual cycle. Irregularities in the menstrual cycle are in particular characterized by extension of the follicular phase, shortening of the luteal phase or amenorrhea.
The Cardiovascular System
Since no longitudinal studies have been conducted on the effect of anabolic steroids on cardiovascular morbidity, not much can be said. However, in most cross-sectional studies, investigations have laid emphasis on risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, particularly the effect of anabolic steroids on blood pressure and plasma lipoproteins. It has been seen that the serum cholesterol and triglycerides between drug-free users and non-users is not very different. However, during the usage of anabolic steroids, total cholesterol of the human body tends to increase, while HDL-cholesterol demonstrates a marked decline. Serum LDL-cholesterol shows a variable response.
Excessive intake of AS greatly affects one’s behavior as well. The increase in the levels of testosterone is associated with masculine behavior, aggressiveness as well as increased sexual desire. Where increased aggressiveness might prove to be beneficial for athletic training, it might also lead to overt violence outside one’s premise of work. Some other common side effects of AS that have been reported in individuals talking AS are euphoria, confusion, sleeping disorders, pathological anxiety, paranoia and even hallucinations.
Besides, the above mentioned side effects of excessive AS intake, hypertrophy of sebaceous glands, increased tallow excretion, hair loss, and alopecia have also found evidence. Anabolic steroid abuse may also affect the immune system, and decrease glucose tolerance. However, the good news is these changes are reversible after abstention from the drugs is practiced!