If you’re serious about bodybuilding, you’ll need to make sure that your training and diet are absolutely on point whether you’re trying to bulk or cut.
However, there’s only so much that even the perfect regime can achieve without a little extra help. Anabolic steroids have been around for decades and have been proven to be incredibly effective in taking bodybuilding to the next level. No matter if you’re looking to get shredded or add bulk and muscle, steroids can help you achieve your goals more quickly and comprehensively.
Unfortunately, they don’t come without a price: anabolic steroids can be very harsh on the body and there’s a whole host of side effects which can be very serious.
If you’re considering using anabolic steroids, it’s absolutely imperative you get steroid information first as there’s different types of steroids and ways to mitigate some of the worst effects. Below is a guide to the anabolic steroids side effects you may experience both in the short and long term.
Some anabolic steroids are renowned for being very androgenic which means that not only are they out of the question for use in females, but that they can also produce very marked side effects in men.
However, any anabolic steroid could produce androgenic side effects; some individuals will be more sensitive than others so extremely androgenic drugs aren’t suitable for all.
One of the most pronounced androgenic effects can be baldness or thinning of hair, but unless you have the male pattern baldness gene you won’t be affected. However, if you do lose your hair simply stopping the steroid won’t reverse the changes so if you think you may be prone it could be a good idea to use anabolic steroids which have a lower level of androgenic effects.
Hair loss is often associated with DHT (dihydrotestosterone) which attaches to the hair follicles and causes them to be permanently shed. Blocking this action can prevent the hair loss and drugs such as Finasteride can help with this. The drugs work on the enzyme which converts the testosterone into DHT, 5-alpha reductase, and are known as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. Unfortunately, not all hair loss associated with steroid use is as a result of the actions of this enzyme. Some drugs which already contain a derivative of DHT don’t interact with the enzyme which means blocking drugs won’t have any effect. Trenbolone, Primobolan, Winstrol and Deca Durabolin are examples of androgenic steroids which won’t respond to treatment.
The androgenic effect of steroids can also include acne where the receptors which lie beneath the skin bind with the androgen and lead to a rise in the production of sebum. This means that no matter how scrupulously clean you keep your skin; you could still suffer from acne.
Although testosterone is the main hormone associated with men, once it’s within the body it converts to estradiol which is a female hormone. This is a normal process and essential for a variety of bodily processes. The change from testosterone to estradiol is known as aromatization because it’s performed with the help from the aromatase enzyme.
However, problems arise when you introduce anabolic steroids into the balance because some of these also have the ability to aromatize. Because of the high doses of testosterone which are present in the body, there is far more of the female hormone estradiol than there should be and it’s this which can lead to estrogenic side effects.
The estrogenic side effects of steroid use include gynecomastia, water retention and excessive body fat. The overall look is typically soft and puffy, without the shredded muscular appearance that many bodybuilders want.
Aromatization isn’t the only process which can lead to estrogenic side effects; some steroids interact directly with the receptors creating the same undesirable outcome.
The good news is that you don’t have to simply stop taking steroids in order to get rid of the estrogenic effects. There’s two groups of drugs that you can try: either Aromatase Inhibitors or Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs).
An Aromatase Inhibitor (AI) such as Arimidex will block the enzyme Aromatase which is to blame for the estrogenic conversion. Care needs to be taken when using this because otherwise side effects of estrogen deficiency will manifest and these include erectile dysfunction, depression, loss of libido and lack of energy.
Alternatively, a SERM such as Nolvadex can be used; this has an advantage over AI drugs such as Arimidex because it doesn’t block the estrogen completely.
A bit of a crossover effect, steroids which are particularly estrogenic can lead to water retention (as described above). But as well as being aesthetically undesirable, it can actually be dangerous as it can lead to raised blood pressure.
Some types of anabolic steroid can also adversely affect levels of cholesterol in the body, specifically the LDL/HDL ratio, decreasing healthy cholesterol and sometimes increasing the amount of bad cholesterol too.
This combined with raised blood pressure can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The good news is that using drugs to eliminate estrogenic side effects and eating a clean diet which is low in fat, as well as taking regular cardiovascular exercise can more or less offset the problems.
However, other cardiovascular side effects can also occur but in the vast majority of cases, this is due to abuse of anabolic steroids. This means unduly long cycles, not allowing your body time to recover and taking a dose which is too high.
Overuse or abuse of anabolic steroids can lead a to a whole host of cardiovascular side effects including an enlarged heart and polycythemia.
Hepatotoxicity is a major problem for some types of anabolic steroids, but less of an issue for others.
Generally, the drugs that are injected don’t have a particularly negative effect on the liver. But in direct contrast, many of the steroids administered orally can present a real problem, particularly those in the 17-alpha-alkyl group.
Oral steroid side effects range from elevated liver enzymes (which can be taken as an indicator that damage could occur if sustained) to the development of cysts and tumors. In many cases these tumors are benign, but cysts may cause a fatality if they burst. In addition, in some instances oral steroids can lead to malignancy.
Although liver enzymes can be monitored some damage to the liver will take some time to manifest, returning normal blood test results. Therefore, while monitoring is useful it won’t necessarily be sufficient to pick up all signs that hepatotoxicity has occurred.
Long term studies have shown a variable effect on the liver but some experts suggest that the pre-steroid condition of the liver may be the deciding factor. Having pre-existing abnormal liver function tests or being a heavy drinker could therefore significantly increase the risk of hepatotoxicity occurring with anabolic steroid use.
The side effects of oral steroids are considered to be such a problem for the liver that they’re not recommended for longer cycles and primarily used as a kickstarter to supplement other steroids.
Steroid side effects in men can be problematic on a cosmetic and also medical basis, and testosterone shutdown can be a real issue for both.
By increasing the amount of testosterone in the body by taking anabolic steroids, the body shuts down its own production. This occurs with every single anabolic steroid because the testosterone production system relies on a feedback loop; when excessive amounts of testosterone are detected within the blood, production ceases. And because the goal of anabolic steroids is to up the amount of testosterone, it’s impossible to escape the problem.
Shutting down the body’s own supply of testosterone can lead to shrinking of the testicles as a result of the lack of stimulation (testosterone is produced in the testicles).
Although this effect may be very undesirable, it is reversible after the cycle is complete. Providing proper PCT is carried out and there is no abuse of anabolic steroids, the body will revert to producing testosterone eventually and volumes in the testicles will increase once again.
Side effects in women
Although any of the above side effects could be equally a concern for women, female bodybuilders thinking of using anabolic steroids have additional factors to consider. Steroid side effects in women can be extremely difficult to manage, especially on certain drugs.
Some steroids are more likely to lead to a collection of symptoms which are known as virilization. These include a deepening of the voice, growth of body hair, cessation of menstruation and enlargement of the clitoris. Dry skin and a reduction in breast size may also occur.
If these symptoms start to become apparent while taking anabolic steroids, the drug must be stopped straight away. If caught in time, the side effects will fade but if steroids continue to be taken the effects will become permanent.
Steroids which are particularly androgenic can present the biggest challenge to female bodybuilders. All steroids can cause virilization in women but the ones which potentially have a lower likelihood of doing so include Anavar, Primobolan and Winstrol.
Because the risk of side effects in women is a very serious concern, it’s recommended that female steroid users avoid any drugs which have a long ester. Having steroids in the body which take a long time to clear could result in virilization effects becoming permanent.
Much has been written in the media about the link between using anabolic steroids and the risk of death, yet many bodybuilders still opt to continue to take them. Surely a reckless decision?
The problem arises because all too often anabolic steroid use and steroid abuse are lumped in together. There’s no question that these types of drugs can be extremely harsh on the body and if care isn’t taken, the side effects of steroids can be severe.
Nevertheless, the real risk comes from individuals who abuse anabolic steroids.
When taking anabolic steroids, it’s critical to understand the right dose and the length of the cycle as well as considering the impact of other drugs or supplements you may be taking simultaneously. When the recommended ranges are adhered to, the risk of mortality appears to be low.
The real problems start to arise in individuals who ignore the recommended dosage, extend their steroid cycles beyond the advised length or don’t allow their body time to recover properly between cycles. This kind of abuse can lead to excessive strain on the body, and could contribute to an early death. And it’s these cases which hit the headlines and earn anabolic steroids the unfair reputation of being killer drugs.
Long term effects
Although a certain number of bodybuilders may dabble with the use of anabolic steroids for a number of years, long term steroid use is another matter. Much research has been carried out into the immediate and short term effects of steroids but the symptoms of steroid use in the long term have the potential to manifest in a very different way.
The effects of steroids on the body can take their toll but some individuals continue to take them for a number of decades, seemingly with no permanent ill effects.
The studies conducted on long term use of steroids has been extremely limited and much more data is needed to be conclusive on the subject. It’s been suggested that the long term effect will also depend in part on how well the side effects from steroids are managed in the shorter term.
There are individuals who have used anabolic steroids for many years and continue to do so, but this shouldn’t mean that it should be assumed that no-one will have problems with continued use. The effect on cholesterols and insulin, together with the number of other drugs being taken, seem to play an integral role in whether there will be any problem in the longer term.