Use of anabolic steroids to build muscles|how do they work and what are the risks

Anabolic steroids are synthetic compounds that mimic the anabolic effects of testosterone. Testosterone is a male hormone that is involved in the development of secondary male sexual characteristics such as muscle growth and facial hairs.  The concentration of testosterone in the body is highest between puberty and 40 years but this will vary depending on race and ethnic group.

Men produce 3–7 mg of testosterone per day, resulting in  a serum concentration of 3–10 ng/mg. Healthy women produce 0.1–0.4 mg/day, resulting in serum concentrations of less than 1 ng/mL. 

Testosterone also has a major role in spermatogenesis(formation of sperm cells) and therefore very important in male reproductive health. Infact, testosterone is prescribed for oligospermia(low sperm count) and azoospermia(derformed immotile sperm). Testosterone has also been used to treat muscle wasting in cancer and HIV. The anabolic activity of testosterone is put into use. 

How does testosterone exert its effects?

Testosterone acts by binding to nuclear receptors and inducing gene expression that lead to protein synthesis. It's the proteins that build up the muscles. Testosterone also blocks glucocorticoid receptors and prevent muscle breakdown.

The most active form  of testosterone is dihydrotestosterone(DHT), this may be due to its flexible structure which makes it easy for it to sit and fit its receptor.

Signs of low testosterone.

  • Loss of libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sleep disorders
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Loss of muscle mass with fatty replacement

Anabolic-Androgenic-Steroids use has been on the rise with males being mostly affected. Anabolic steroids are abused due to the following reasons,

  •  increases lean body mass,
  •  increases strength,
  •  increases aggressiveness, and
  •  leads to a shorter recovery time between workouts.

Users usually take the steroids in higher doses than doctors would prescribe in  deficiency.The steroids are usually taken through one or more of the following methods, stacking, cycling or pyramiding.

In stacking, is using different steroid preparations at the same time. The user hopes anabolic(muscle building) characteristics are increased while the androgenic(sexual characteristics) are kept minimal.

In cycling, different combination of steroids are taken in alternating cycles of 6-12 weeks. The users hope to prevent resistance to one steroid.

In pyramiding, the user starts with a lo dose and the increases the dosage over a time. This gives the body time to get used to the steroid and prevent severe side effects at least according to the abuser.

Most users combine the three methods.

Adverse effects of steroid use.

Anabolic steroids have very negative effect on the psychology of the user. The most common one is ROID RAGE. Roid rage is characterized by aggressive behavior where the user is not able to control emotions of anger and usually ends up in fights. Suicidal thoughts are also very common with the steroid users and infact most end up committing suicide. The steroid users also get so much hooked to the athletic activities so that they don't think of anything else.

Use of anabolic steroids can cause prostrate cancer. This is due to over stimulation of the prostrate gland.

The androgenic effects of Anabolic steroids can  lead to impotence. This is due to suppression of  lutenizing hormone(LH). LH is the hormone responsible for maturation of sperm cells. Note therapeutic doses of testosterone and analogues is used in treatment of low sperm count.

Steroid use also increases the risk of coronary artery disease and other vascular diseases. This include arterial aneurisms(weak points on arterial wall that cause it to bulge out and may burst). Steroids may also lead to shot QT intervals. Short QT interval leads to Torsades de Pointes. There is a debate as to whether QT interval can be used to detect whether an athlete has used steroids. 

Commonly used anabolic steroids.


Testosterone is available as Testosterone injection which is a long slow release form that can be used up to once a month. Testosterone is easily detected in urine and blood and therefore not preferred by athletes.  


Nandrolone is more potent than testosterone . It is available as Nandrolone decanoate injection. Nandrolone has been used to treat muscle wasting, wounds and by farmers to increase beef production in cattle.

Mesterolone(proviron) is available as tablets. It is used to treat male sterility caused by hypogonadism and androgen deficiency.

Tetrahydrogestrinone is perhaps the most potent anabolic steroid. The best thing about Tetrahydrogestrinone is that it is very hard to detect as it disintegrates in the column of a gas chromatograph.

Erythropoietin and its analogues increases the synthesis of red blood cells therefore increasing the athlete's endurance



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