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How Do Anabolic Steroids Affect the Brain? The Clear Answer

Anthony Diaz
Published by Anthony Diaz
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 9, 2022

Being a fitness professional for more than a decade, my clients often come to me with questions regarding supplements, especially anabolic steroids, and recently they’ve been particularly curious about how they affect the brain.

It's been my observation that steroid abuse is often associated with poor mental health, but I decided to dive into the research to find scientific proof for that and educate my clients properly.

So, I spent a few weeks talking with a few of my doctor friends and reviewing various studies on the long-term effects of anabolic steroids on the brain.

Let’s unpack my findings.

Quick Summary

  • High-dose, long-term use of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) may cause adverse effects, including brain and cognitive abnormalities.
  • AAS are a synthetic version of the male sex hormone testosterone, used as a medical treatment for hormonal imbalance but also used by athletes for strength training and performance enhancement.
  • Using anabolic steroids can cause body image issues which could potentially lead to steroid dependency.

How Do Anabolic Steroids Alter Your Brain?

Checking every steroid supplement

Anabolic steroids can alter your brain in many ways, including widening the brain age gap (difference between your chronological and biological age) as well as interfering with your neurotransmitters.

1. Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids Can Cause Accelerated Brain Aging

Long-term anabolic-androgenic steroid use can have deleterious effects on your brain, causing it to age abnormally.

In a 2021 brain imaging study, researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on the brains of regular lifters and weightlifters who used AAS for a prolonged period of time [1].

The researchers employed machine learning to determine the predicted brain age of each participant, and they found accelerated brain aging in long-term, dependent AAS users.

“Anabolic steroid use has been associated with a range of medical and psychological side effects.” - Dr. Astrid Bjørnebekk, Ph.D., Division of Mental Health and Addiction, Oslo University Hospital

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2. Anabolic Steroids Can Affect the Brain’s Neurotransmitter Systems

A concept of brain

Steroids are known to affect the brain’s dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitter systems [2].

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that regulates your addiction development, whereas serotonin regulates sleep, movement, appetite, and emotions [3] [4].

Steroids have been shown to directly affect dopamine and serotonin release, causing problems in sleep, appetite, and emotional regulation.

Some steroids like nandrolone make these effects on your nervous system almost permanent [5].

Other animal studies found anabolic steroids increase serotonin levels in brain regions involved in mood. This, in turn, could lead to uncontrolled anxiety, aggression, and depression [6].

3. Anabolics May Cause Body Image Issues

Steroid dependency and exaggerated use commonly cause body image issues among bodybuilders [7].

For example, a steroid user who’s 250 pounds with a 33-inch waistline might think they're not muscular enough and continue abusing steroids to obtain better results.

Why Does It Matter?

Having a pain in the head

It matters because, as mentioned above, steroids can cause long-lasting negative effects on your neurological and psychological health, and those effects are not only limited to that as cardiovascular and hepatic (liver) health can be hugely affected as well.

Side Effects

I tell every one of my clients to think of fitness only as a long game, not a “get-quick-results-now” kind of deal.

Side effects of anabolic steroids, like brain aging, body image issues, anxiety, and dependency, could potentially affect workout performance and negatively impact your fitness levels in the long run.

In addition to compromising your physical health, this entirely defeats the purpose of taking them in the first place.

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Stigma

The stigma attached to using anabolics can mentally affect your day-to-day activities as well.

A 2016 study found that the stigma expressed towards steroid use and hard drug abuse (like heroin) are the same [8].

If you’re a trainer or part of a fitness community, this stigma will be all the more harmful because you might be placed in the same category as someone engaging in substance abuse.

Are There Any Safer Alternatives?

Pouring pills on hand

Yes, there are safer alternatives to using anabolic steroids, and they are commonly called legal steroids.

I advise you to consider a high-quality bulking stack made with all-natural ingredients instead of androgenic-anabolic steroids.

I used these myself when going through plateaus in my muscle growth, and I feel free to recommend them to my clients because of the very safety I’ve experienced first-hand.

They proved to be effective, and they haven’t caused any harmful side effects in my practice so far.

They can accelerate the rate at which muscle strength and size are increasing, improve the workout endurance, and help with fat-burning.

They’re not magic pills, nor will they give you the same results as anabolic steroids.

But they will safely accelerate your fitness journey and help you get over genetic muscle-building barriers a bit easier.

FAQs

Do Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids Cause Memory Loss?

Yes, anabolic-androgenic steroids can cause memory loss by negatively affecting retrospective and prospective memory. They can also cause problems with memory execution.

Can Anabolic Steroids Cause Dementia?

Yes, anabolic-androgenic steroids might cause dementia by increasing the user’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease [9].

Will Anabolic Steroid Use Cause Impaired Cognitive Performance?

The harmful, long-term effects of anabolic steroids on the brain are the main reason I always tell my clients to keep away from them and always advise them to go natural with safe and legal steroids instead.

We tried and tested some of the most popular steroids right now with our clients, and we received positive feedback in terms of quicker bulking and better retention of lean muscle mass.

With or without the patience for the long game, I urge you to consider these instead of conventional steroids, as the price of prolonged AAS use is far higher than any potential benefit.


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2451902221000197
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1188718/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6135092/
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232248#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462037/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11168533/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27364377/
  8. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0022042616661837
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30817935/

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