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What Are Steroids? (Everything You Need To Know)

Anthony Diaz
Published by Anthony Diaz
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 16, 2022

Most people have probably heard about steroids, especially those in the fitness world.

In talking with my clients and colleagues, I have found that many of them still don’t know or understand the actual ins and outs of steroid use.

It is important to me to equip my clients with this knowledge so they can make informed decisions about what they put in their bodies.

So, I decided to jump headfirst into a weeks-long research project on steroids to refresh and update my own knowledge and synthesize it in this article so everyone can fully understand the dangers associated with these substances.

Quick Summary

  • There are two major classes of steroids: anabolic and corticosteroids.
  • There are many different methods of administering steroids.
  • Steroids have short-term and long-term effects on the body.

What Are Steroids?

A row of syringes on a table

Steroids are chemical compounds, often hormones, occurring in your body naturally, which assist many body functions in the organs, tissues, and cells.

Steroids can also be made in a lab and those include synthetic sex hormones (testosterone) and corticosteroids primarily used to that fight inflammation.

Cortisol is a hormone that is made in the adrenal glands and prevents or tones down the inflammation response of the body’s immune system, and manufactured cortisol, called corticosteroids, mimics this action [1].

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the male sex hormone testosterone, and they are often used to help increase muscle mass, among other things.

Uses and Misuses of Steroids

A man holding a syringe with one hand

Needles to say, but these synthetic compounds were not made to be abused. They have real medical applications which can improve some difficult health conditions and even be even life-saving in some cases.

Medical uses

Corticosteroids are meant for short-term use and treat many conditions related to the immune system which cause inflammation in the body.

These include rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, asthma, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), eczema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) [2].

Anabolic steroids also have a legitimate role in medicine and treat low testosterone, delayed puberty, and muscle mass loss due to diseases like cancer or AIDS [3].

Because these are potent medications, they are often abused, with anabolics leading the way, but there has been increasing misuse of topical corticosteroid drugs as well [4].

Related Article: How Do Steroids Reduce Inflammation?

Common Abuses

Someone holding a syringe

The most worrisome thing about these compounds, though, is the fact that there is widespread misuse of anabolics in athletes and bodybuilders because of their potent ability to rapidly increase muscle mass and decrease body fat.

Abusers are known to use as much as 100 times the amount commonly prescribed to treat medical conditions.

Such high doses of steroid treatment can significantly increase severe adverse effects and withdrawal symptoms, to the point of putting the life in danger in some cases.

Anabolic users often turn to other drugs to offset the adverse effects of the steroid, but the dangers of these drug cocktails are anything but widely known.

Examples of this include amphetamines to encourage fat loss and counter feelings of depression, diuretics to counteract fluid retention, and human growth hormone (HGH) to attempt to reverse testicle shrinkage [5].

Methods of Administration

Both corticosteroids and anabolics come in various forms of administration, including oral, topical, injection, inhaled, and nasal spray.

Injectable and oral steroids are systemic steroid treatments because they circulate throughout the body via the bloodstream, with injectable steroids being delivered directly into a vein or muscle.

Topical steroids, joint injections, eye and ear drops, inhalers, and nasal sprays are all local steroid treatments because they target a specific area of the body.

The most common ones for misuse of anabolics are oral steroids and injections by far, with topical steroids in the third place.

It is also common for steroid abusers to cycle, stack, or pyramid these products, so let’s take a moment and look at what that means:

  • Cycling is when a user uses steroids for some time and then stops briefly and starts again, in a cyclical manner.
  • Stacking is when you use more than one type of steroid concurrently.
  • When you combine cycling and stacking, you have pyramiding. You take one or more steroids beginning at a low dose, ramp it up over time until you peak, then back down and take a rest.

Related Article: How Long Should You Wait Between Steroid Cycles?

Side Effects

a buff man staring at the mirror

The side effects of steroids are the most important point here, and they depend on the dosage and if you take them long-term or for a short time.

Corticosteroids

For a short-term, low-dose corticosteroid use most common side effects are weight gain, mood swings, nausea, insomnia, increased appetite, and a swollen face.

Some may also experience acne, hair growth, high blood pressure, or blood sugar spikes [6].

Long-term use of corticosteroids may result in osteoporosis, adrenal insufficiency, delayed growth in children, increased risk of diabetes, and muscle weakness.

You should also note that corticosteroids suppress your immune system making you more susceptible to infections [7].

Anabolic Steroids

A man lifting heavy weights

Anabolics bring a host of side effects, including shrunken testicles, deeper voice and facial hair growth in females, stunted growth in teens, severe acne, increased appetite, and infertility [8].

High doses will also increase the mental side effects of steroids which include extreme mood swings, aggression, mania, paranoia, and delusions [9]

Long-term misuse can also lead to significant health issues, including liver and kidney damage, rising low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the ‘bad” cholesterol), cardiovascular disease, and it may compromise your immune system function permanently [10]

“The liver plays a crucial role as the main detoxifier organ in the body, detoxifying chemicals and drugs and metabolizing hormones. Therefore, a healthy liver is key for good health and hormone balance in particular.” -Vera Martins, Ph.D.

Misuse of anabolics throws your body’s natural hormones out of balance. It increases testosterone concentration in the blood, tricking the body into thinking it does not need to produce any of its own

For this reason, it is common practice for bodybuilders to implement a post cycle therapy (PCT) protocol when stopping anabolics to stabilize hormone levels.

Related Article: 

FAQs

Why Would a Doctor Give You Steroids?

A doctor would give you steroids to treat various medical conditions, including asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis.

Do Steroids Help With Pain?

Yes, steroids help with pain, and for this reason, they are beneficial for palliative care patients.

What Happens When You Stop Taking Steroids Suddenly?

When you stop taking steroids suddenly, you may experience an acute drop in blood pressure and a negative impact on blood sugar levels. It is advisable to reduce gradually (taper) the steroid dose to restore production by your adrenal glands.

Are Steroids Worth The Risks?

The health risks of steroid use, even at a low dose, are too significant and definitely not worth it.

I will always advise my clients to implement a sustainable workout routine, nutritious diet, and natural supplement intake to achieve their desired fitness goals.

There are many natural and legal steroids that I have tested personally and recommended to many of my clients with surprising success.

Gaining a better physique through hard work, a proper diet, and natural supplements without wreaking havoc on the body with steroids is the only way to go, even if it takes a bit longer.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538239/
  2. http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/63/6/655
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/anabolic-steroids
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25396124/
  5. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/steroids
  6. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ss/slideshow-steroids-101
  7. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/4812-corticosteroids
  8. https://www.webmd.com/men/anabolic-steroids
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/how-does-anabolic-steroid-misuse-affect-behavior
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2242353/

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