Steroids are a class of steroid hormones related to the hormone testosterone. They increase protein synthesis within the cells, which result in building up of cellular tissue especially in the muscles. Anabolic steroids also have androgenic and virilizing properties, including the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics such as the growth of the vocal cords and body hair. The word anabolic comes from the Greek word ‘anabolein‘ which means ‘to build up’, and the word androgenic from the Greek ‘andros‘ which means ‘to produce’.
Anabolic steroids were first synthesized in the 1930s and are now therapeutically used in medicine to stimulate bone growth and appetite, to induce male puberty and treat chronic wasting conditions in cases of cancer and AIDS. The American college of sports medicine acknowledges that steroids in the presence of adequate diet, can contribute to increases in body weight. Often as lean mass increases, the gains in muscular strength is achieved through high-intensity exercise. Proper diet can be additionally increased by the use of steroids in some individuals.
Long term use can lead to some health risks. These effects include harmful changes in cholesterol levels (increased low density lipopotein and decreased high density lipoprotein), acne, high blood pressure, liver damage and dangerous changes in the structure of the left ventricle of the heart.
Use for anabolic steroids in sports and body building is controversial, because of their adverse effects and the potential to gain an advantage conventionally considered “cheating.” Their use is considered doping and banned by all major sporting bodies. For many years the AAS have been by far the most detected doping substances in IOC accredited laboratories. In countries where AAS are controlled substances, there is often a black market in which smuggled or even counterfeit drugs are sold to users.
With the discovery and synthesis of testosterone in the 1930s, steroids have been used by physicians for many purposes, with varying degrees of success.
- Bone Marrow stimulation: For decades, anabolic steroids were the mainstay of therapy for hypoplastic anemias due to leukemia or kidney failure, especially aplastic anemia. Anabolic steroids have largely been replaced in this setting by synthetic protein hormones that selectively stimulate growth of blood cell precursors.
- Growth stimulation: Anabolic steroids can be used by pediatric endocrinologists to treat children with growth failure.
- Stimulation of appetite and preservation and increase of muscle mass: Anabolic steroids have been given to people with chronic wasting conditions such as cancer and AIDS.
- Induction of male puberty: Androgens are given to many boys distressed about extreme delay of puberty. Testosterone is now nearly the only androgen used for this purpose and has been shown to increase height, weight, and fat-free mass in boys with delayed puberty.
- Testosterone enanthate has frequently been used as a male contraceptive and it is thought that in the near future it could be used as a safe, reliable, and reversible male contraceptive.
- Anabolic steroids have been found in some studies to increase lean body mass and prevent bone loss in elderly men.However, a 2006 placebo-controlled trial of low-dose testosterone supplementation in elderly men with low levels of testosterone found no benefit on body composition, physical performance,insulin sensitivity.
- Used in hormone replacement therapy for men with low levels of testosterone and is also effective in improving libido for elderly males.
- Used to treat gender dysmorphia (the belief that one was born the wrong gender) by producing secondary male characteristics, such as a deeper voice, increased bone and muscle mass, facial hair, increased levels of red blood cells and clitoral enlargement in female to male patients.
It is difficult to determine what percent of the population in general have actually used anabolic steroids, but the number seems to be fairly low. Studies in the United States have shown anabolic steroid users tend to be mostly middle-class heterosexual men with a median age of about 25 who are noncompetitive bodybuilders and non-athletes and use the drugs for cosmetic purposes. Another study found that non-medical use of AAS among college students was at or less than 1%.According to a recent survey, 78.4% of steroid users were noncompetitive bodybuilders and non-athletes while about 13% reported unsafe injection practices such as reusing needles, sharing needles, and sharing multi dose vials, though a 2007 study found that sharing of needles was extremely uncommon among individuals using anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes, less than 1%.Another 2007 study found that 74% of non-medical anabolic steroid users had secondary college degrees and more had completed college and less had failed to complete high school than is expected from the general populace.