post Do Steroids Cause Constipation? (7 Things You Should Know)

Do Steroids Cause Constipation? (7 Things You Should Know)

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: January 19, 2024
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Several fitness enthusiasts have experienced constipation due to steroid use.

To understand this issue, I consulted scientific literature and my colleague gastroenterologist, who provided insights into the impact of steroids on digestive health and recommended fiber supplements to alleviate potential issues.

The insights revealed a clear link between steroids and digestive health issues, including constipation, highlighting the importance of moderation and proper guidance in steroid use.

Let's begin.

Quick Summary

  • Steroids can cause constipation by disrupting normal hormone levels and affecting bodily functions like digestion and bowel habits.
  • Steroids can lead to fluid retention, increasing abdominal pressure and slowing down the digestive system, resulting in constipation.
  • Frontiers in Physiology reports that regular exercise increases metabolism, leading to faster digestive muscle contractions and more regular bowel movements.
  • In my opinion, the side effects of steroids, including constipation, highlight the importance of using these substances with caution and under medical supervision, emphasizing the value of natural methods for health and fitness.

Can Steroids Cause Constipation?

An athlete suffering from constipation

Yes, steroids can cause constipation, among many other health issues. In most cases, constipation is caused by taking too much and/or for too long.

I remember how my patients told me about the discomfort and bloating when they were on steroids; it was a clear indication that even prescribed doses could lead to constipation if not managed properly.

Additionally, there’s research that suggests that even legally prescribed steroids taken as instructed by the doctor may still cause many problems in the body [1].

In fact, a study done in rats showed that taking prednisone for short-term use caused a slowing of intestinal transit.

This has been linked to poor bowel movements and constipation, according to the BioMed Research International [2].

While it's known that steroids can cause constipation and other immediate health issues, it's crucial to also consider the long-term side effects of using steroids like Prednisone, which can lead to painful burning sensations in the hands or feet, severe depression, and behavioral changes.

Another aspect to be wary of is the immunosuppressive nature of steroids like Prednisone. While they can mitigate overactive immune responses, they also increase the vulnerability to various infections, a risk that amplifies with the dosage and duration of the therapy.

How Do They Cause Constipation?

An male with constipation holding his stomach in

Steroids, like other medications, may cause constipation by disrupting the body's normal hormone levels [3].

Several bodily functions are affected by these changes, including the following:

Digestion

According to research "Extremely Low HDL Cholesterol and Increased LDL Cholesterol Induced by the use of Anabolic Steroids in a Body Builder: A Case Study" published in ClinMed, steroid use can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in the body, which can negatively affect digestion, according to the ClinMed [4].

When cholesterol levels are too high, stones can form in your gallbladder.

In this case, gallstones can block the passage of a substance called bile, which helps your stomach and intestines break down fat in the body and absorb nutrients.

Without enough bile, your digestive system cannot function properly, and fat may not be digested effectively [5]. This can cause indigestion, irregular bowel movements, and constipation.

Bowel Habits

According to the BetterHealth, steroids can also cause fluid retention, which can lead to the accumulation of water around specific organs, including the abdomen [6].

Having excess fluid around your stomach can increase abdominal pressure, which impedes digestive muscle movements [7]. When there is less movement in the stomach and intestinal muscles, the gastrointestinal contents move slowly, making it difficult for the body to empty the colon.

Irregular bowel movements can cause waste products to accumulate in your colon, resulting in pain while defecating or feeling constipated.

Stool Transit Time

Scientific Graphic of DNA

Steroid use has also been shown to impair nervous system function, resulting in slowed colonic muscle contractions and preventing waste from moving out of the body, according to the Molecular Neurobiology [8].

Research suggests that the movement of chyme, or the partially undigested food in the colon, is aided by colonic contractions and mass movements.

During food processing and forming waste, the colon, or large intestine, absorbs water through its walls [9].

If the muscle contractions are slow, the transit of the stool is delayed, and the process is prolonged, allowing most of the water to be absorbed.

This results in stools being too hard, which causes constipation.

Anabolic steroids may also cause adverse health effects in addition to physiological changes that cause constipation.

Other Potential Side Effects

A woman having a stomach ache

Using steroids is bad for you because it can increase the risk of chronic diseases, especially when they are taken in doses that are 10 to 100 times higher than prescribed by a doctor.

My patients learned the hard way that using steroids can be detrimental. During their phase of high dosage intake, they experienced a range of health issues, a stark reminder of the risks associated with exceeding the prescribed doses.

Furthermore, taking steroids without medical or therapeutic purpose for extended periods of time can increase the risk of heart problems, skin thinning, bleeding, and inflammation.

Additionally, misuse and abuse can lead to gender-specific issues like baldness and shrinking testicles in men and irregular menstruation in women, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse [10].

“Use of anabolic steroids for bodybuilding will cause the testes to shut down their testosterone production. This could be permanent, even after discontinuation of these drugs.”

-  Ghandi Saadeh, MD, Endocrinology Specialist

To avoid these adverse effects, there are natural alternatives to anabolic steroids with almost no side effects. If symptoms such as constipation continue to bother you, try the following simple remedies.

What You Can Do to Prevent Constipation

A patient consulting a doctor

Taking prescribed steroids can still cause constipation, but there are ways you can manage it.

Follow A Soft Food Diet

A soft diet consisting of good sources of soluble fiber that is easy to eat and digest can help you manage your constipation symptoms.

Among these foods are oatmeal and cream-of-wheat, whole wheat bread and pasta, sweet potatoes, and bananas.

It is best to avoid red meat when you are constipated as it takes longer to digest and may aggravate the problem.

Increase Hydration

Drinking more liquids, in addition to eating soft foods, can help to speed up the movement of digestive contents, flush them out of the system, and prevent constipation.

Research "Water, Hydration and Health" published in PubMed shows that Increased water content in your body will make your stools softer and stimulate your bowel movements [11].

Track down water intake throughout the day, or carry a water bottle with you wherever you go to ensure you get enough.

Get Your Body Moving

A male jogging outdoors

If you have constipation, you should increase your physical activity by going for walks and doing body stretches before or after a workout regularly.

According to the Frontiers in Physiology, regular exercise has been shown to increase metabolism, which causes digestive muscle contractions to be faster, allowing you to move your bowels more regularly [12].

Giving yourself 15 minutes of morning stretches and 15 minutes of an afternoon walk can give you 30 minutes of exercise to help with constipation.

Related: Yoga Poses for Constipation

How to Use Steroids Safely

Steroid misuse is common in the quest for quick bodybuilding results.

If steroids are necessary, minimal doses, regular breaks, and informed choices can mitigate health risks. Consider natural alternatives for safer, side-effect-free results over a longer period.

My patients have been down the road of steroid misuse in their earlier bodybuilding days, always chasing quicker results. It took a toll on their health. Now, they advocate for minimal doses and informed choices, a lesson learned from personal experience.

What Is Considered Long-Term Steroid Use?

An old clock on a desk

According to research, extending steroid use longer than three months is considered long-term and can result in serious side effects [13].

Long-term use of steroids typically results in a poor immune system.

The same is true if you exceed the recommended dosage of the drug used to treat a condition, based on research published in PubMed [14].

Continuing to use steroids at high doses after the initial physiological responses have subsided, as in the case of constipation and immune system impairment, can lead to more serious side effects that may require medical intervention.

When to Seek Professional Medical Advice

If serious adverse effects persist, consulting with a doctor is the best course of action.

Men using anabolic steroids might face acne, hair loss, or breast enlargement. While these are concerning, immediate attention is crucial for severe issues like allergic reactions, bone thinning, and infections due to weakened immunity.

I can't stress enough the importance of seeking professional advice. Some of my patients ignored the early signs like acne and hair loss until it became unbearable. Consulting a doctor made a world of difference in managing the adverse effects of steroids.

The good news is that there are alternatives to steroids that won't cause a negative effect, even if used long-term:

I recommend natural alternatives for safely boosting testosterone. Our data confirms their effectiveness in promoting muscle growth without impacting bowel health.

FAQs

Is Prednisone the Same as Steroids?

Prednisone is not the same as steroids used by bodybuilders.

Prednisone belongs to a group of drugs called corticosteroids, which are medications used to treat patients with inflammatory conditions [15].

In reference to sports, steroids are used as performance enhancers.

They are called anabolics, often illegally used to hasten muscle mass gains and weight loss.

Can Steroids Change Your Normal Bowel Movements?

Like other medications used to treat inflammation, steroids can change your normal bowel movements because they can make the body retain water.

Excess bodily fluids may slow the movement of gastrointestinal contents, making stools hard to pass and causing less frequent bowel movements.

Do Steroids Make You Gassy?

Steroids can make you gassy because they disrupt your body's normal production of cortisol and anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which are responsible for water balance in the body [16].

This causes fluid retention, which affects digestion and causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence.

How Long Does It Take To Get Steroids Out of Your Body?

It may take several days to two weeks to flush steroids from your system.

This means there is no definite time frame for how long the drug remains in your system. It depends on how much and what other medications you've taken.

Should Steroids Be Taken With Food?

Yes, steroids should be taken with food. Taking steroids without food can trigger digestive and gastric issues. This can range from mild bloating to cramping and nausea to vomiting and significant discomfort.


References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/246373#side-effects
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5625752/
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/drugs-prednisone-tablet-side-effects
  4. https://clinmedjournals.org/articles/ijsem/international-journal-of-sports-and-exercise-medicine-ijsem-4-109.php
  5. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gallstones
  6. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/steroids
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321869
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5994209/
  9. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/colon-motility
  10. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/anabolic-steroids
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/
  12. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.00026/full
  13. https://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/archive/0714p8.shtml
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16529682/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534809/
  16. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186235
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