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Do Anabolic Steroids Shut Down Testosterone?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 19, 2022

I have been a fitness coach for several years and know anabolic steroid use is prevalent in the exercise world as a fast track to ripped muscle.

What is much more important than gaining lean muscle mass fast are the adverse effects these drugs can impose on your body.

I spoke with a few medical professionals I know and did some in-depth online research to determine the real implications of steroids on the natural production of testosterone.

I have compiled my data and outlined the facts in this article, so you can be fully aware of the consequences steroids can have on your testosterone levels.

Quick Summary

  • Steroid misuse can affect testosterone levels years after stopping.
  • Steroid dosage is 10-100 times the legitimate medical treatment prescription when used as a performance-enhancing drug.
  • Using anabolic steroids does not cause a “high,” but they can be addictive and lead to other substance abuse.

What Do Anabolic Steroids Do In the Body?

Holding a small syringe

Steroids significantly increase lean muscle mass and decrease body fat when they are used as a performance-enhancing drug.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids have their place in the beneficial treatment of several health conditions, including hormonal issues, delayed puberty, and diseases that cause muscle loss like AIDS and cancer.

Testosterone serves two purposes.

First, testosterone is responsible for male characteristics such as a deeper voice and facial hair.

Second, testosterone is essential in increasing muscle protein synthesis and building muscle, making it a much sought-after substance for athletes like weight lifters and bodybuilders [1].

Anabolic-androgenic steroids are the synthetic version of testosterone and are taken orally, injected, or topically applied. The potent doses of these performance-enhancing drugs give quick and significant results, thus appealing to athletes looking for extreme muscle gain and strength.

Athletes turning to steroids are likely looking to fast track gaining body mass, decreasing body fat percentage, increasing muscle strength and endurance, and increasing bone density and red blood cell production.

Part of a steroid cycle may include stacking with other substances like growth hormones or insulin to gain massive muscle.

Because of steroids' effects on muscles, athletes also find they may be able to have reduced muscle damage, and recover quicker from hard workouts [2].

How Anabolic Steroids Affect Testosterone?

Man lifting dumb bells

Anabolic steroids affect testosterone by unnaturally increasing blood levels of this hormone and causing a significant hormonal imbalance.

Introducing an excessive amount of anabolic steroids can suppress natural testosterone production and lead to the shrinking of glands and organs that produce hormones like the testicles [3].

A study published in 2016 shows former anabolic steroid users experiencing decreased testosterone levels and symptoms of hypogonadism years after stopping steroid use [4].

“Our body has feedback mechanisms, so it senses a guy’s levels of male hormones and uses that to decide whether it needs to ‘turn down the thermostat,’ so to speak, or if it has enough on its own. When a guy uses these drugs, his body ‘turns down the thermostat,’ and it turns off the androgen production in the testicles.” -Dr. Ed Sebanegh, M.D.

Testosterone Production

Working out using dumb bell curls

Another study followed a bodybuilder over several months, assessing the effects of steroid use on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, which is a system of individual endocrine glands responsible for producing many important hormones, including testosterone.

This study found that endogenous testosterone synthesis (natural production) was severely impaired because of a significant decline in serum luteinizing hormone levels, which is responsible for stimulating testicles to produce testosterone [5].

Additionally, the follicle-stimulating hormone level, which is essential in stimulating the production of sperm, is considerably lowered by anabolic steroid use [6]

Let’s summarize the technical jargon above.

Simply put, steroids can cause low T-levels by fooling your body into thinking it has enough or excessive levels of testosterone.

This abnormal increase leads the body to stop producing testosterone naturally.

When the body stops producing testosterone, you may experience low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, depression, increased body fat, reduced cognitive ability, decreased muscular strength, infertility, and fatigue [7].

PCT and Restoring Testosterone Levels

Since testosterone is low during a cycle of performance-enhancing substances, it needs a recovery afterward.

One of the ways to try and restore testosterone is by post cycle therapy (PCT) which can jumpstart your body’s natural production of testosterone, sometimes in just weeks [8].

The sooner you can restore testosterone levels to a normal range, the better for all the previously discussed symptoms related to low testosterone.

There are a couple of prescription options for PCT, and those are Clomid PCT (Clomiphene) and Nolvadex PCT (Tamoxifen).

Another option to consider as a substitute for PCT protocol is a testosterone booster that contains all-natural ingredients to aid your body’s production.

These supplements can be highly effective in boosting testosterone without side effects commonly associated with prescription medication.

Long-Term Effects

Two buff guys posing

There are significant adverse effects of using steroids long-term that encompass the whole body.

The most commonly abused steroids are, Anadrol®, Oxandrin®, Dianabol®, Winstrol®, and Deca-Durabolin®. Depo-Testosterone® and Equipoise®, and the side effects are similar across the board.

When athletes use anabolic-androgenic steroids to enhance performance, they take extremely high doses, some 10-100 times the amount used in doctor-prescribed medical treatments.

Taking steroids can cause a whole host of severe physical problems besides lowering testosterone and include liver disease, heart attacks, kidney damage, high blood pressure, testicular shrinkage, low sperm count, and sexual dysfunction [9].

Androgen abuse can also increase the risk of blood clots forming in the blood vessels, disrupting the blood flow to the heart and damaging the heart muscle [10].

There are also serious psychological effects that come with steroid abuse, including mania, depression, psychosis, dependence, and aggression [11].

“Steroid use is dangerous for several reasons, including the high risk of infection, their illegal status in most places, and potential for mental addiction. Frequent blood work is essential to monitor potential negative health effects.” - Daniel Preiato, RD, CSCS.

Steroid Addiction

Injecting steroids in the legs

Though steroid users don’t experience any intoxicating effects, studies show the dopamine reward pathways for chronic steroid users are the same as for other substance users [12].

Steroid addiction can occur independently or when using other substances like stimulants, growth hormones, or insulin to enhance performance or manage sleep, mood, or pain, with alcohol, opioids, or cannabis [13].

Common anabolic steroid withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, mood swings, sleep problems, decreased sex drive, and depression so severe it may lead to suicidal thoughts [14].

Natural Alternatives

Thankfully there are effective and safe natural testosterone booster supplements that work with your body’s natural production to build muscle and decrease body fat with minimal side effects.

Some common ingredients proven beneficial to testosterone levels are D-aspartic acid, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D. Many of the most effective testosterone boosters have all or some combination of these ingredients [15].

For instance, a study on the effects of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels has shown promise in positively impacting testosterone [16].

Additionally, many testosterone boosters can be used in conjunction or “stacked” with other supplements to further enhance the benefits to muscle gain, blood flow, low testosterone, and weight loss.

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FAQs

How Long Does It Take Testosterone to Return to Normal After Steroids?

It can take up to four months for testosterone to return to normal levels after stopping steroids. Post-cycle therapy is typical after stopping steroids to restore low testosterone levels, including clomiphene citrate (Clomid) and tamoxifen citrate (Nolvadex).

Can Steroids Cause Permanent Erectile Dysfunction?

Yes, steroids can cause permanent erectile dysfunction, damage testicular function, lower testosterone and sperm count, and diminish sex drive. These effects may subside when steroids are stopped, but they continue for years or never reverse for some.

What Happens if You Suddenly Stop Taking Testosterone?

If you suddenly stop taking testosterone, the withdrawal symptoms may be severe and include fatigue, low sex drive, irritability, and depression significant enough to lead to suicidal thoughts.

The best practice to avoid or alleviate steroid withdrawal symptoms is gradually reducing the dosage over time.

Can Anabolic Steroids Shut Down Testosterone?

The short answer is, yes, steroids shut down testosterone and wreak havoc on your whole body.

If you want to bulk up without those damaging effects, my advice is to look into some natural legal steroids that work with your body, not against it, to keep those levels within the desirable range.

Some of these proved quite effective for both my clients and me, and when coupled with a healthy diet and exercise routine, they can naturally get you closer to your goals noticeably faster.


References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2917954/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046134
  3. https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/heres-what-steroids-actually-do-your-body/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4988681/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30039560/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/793272/
  7. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15603-low-testosterone-male-hypogonadism
  8. https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/post-cycle-therapy/
  9. https://medlineplus.gov/anabolicsteroids.html
  10. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/what-are-side-effects-anabolic-steroid-misuse
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17506239/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2875348/
  13. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/frequently-asked-questions/are-steroids-addictive-can-steroid-abuse-be-treated
  14. https://www.addictioncenter.com/stimulants/steroids/steroid-withdrawal-detox/
  15. https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/the-best-testosterone-boosters-for-men-over-50
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21154195/

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