Was it the “side effects of using steroids” that steered me away from the temptation to try them at an age when I was most vulnerable to the allure of what they promised? Partially, but that can’t account completely for my insistence on the ‘life-time natural’ route when confronted with a relatively easy solution to an age-related male insecurity: feeling scrawny and under-powered. It had to be more; sort of an overwhelming combination of incentives and constraints predicated on the dubiousness of the idea of shutting down my own natural testosterone production along with the knowledge that if I’d ever use steroids, I could never again call myself a natural bodybuilder in good conscience.
The latter reason stated above – transcendent as it may be – doesn’t discount the influence the previous reason has had on my decision. As a cause for many of the short-term ‘side effects of using steroids’, suppressed endogenous testosterone release seemed like it’d be a real blow to my manhood. I pictured the months passing by that would be spent vainly attempting to jumpstart my endocrine system while watching much of my muscle gains wither away as my ability to perform sexually lay dormant. All this friggin’ drama would be for some musculature that I wouldn’t even be able to proudly say I’d created myself. No thanks!
What sealed the decision for me was when I glimpsed a list of ‘side effects of using steroids’ written by the late Dan Duchane back in 1990. Under the side effect of ‘testicular atrophy’, Mr. Duchane remarked: “for whatever it’s worth, they never seem to come back to their full pre-steroid size.”
So despite the PCT (post cycle therapy) drugs that a steroid user utilizes, ones endogenous (internal) testosterone production might be indefinitely suppressed? ‘If so’, I thought, ‘what else might be unalterably changed by using these drugs?’ I saw this as evidence of possible permanent truncation of my body’s ability to produce testosterone. How could I ever expect to make natural muscle gains if my natural testosterone levels aren’t up to par? I could see the writing on the wall that spelled ‘prescription for addiction.’
That said – here’s a list of the most common side effects of using steroids. It should be noted up front that many of these effects occur in varying degrees and in some cases, minimally or not at all. Side effects are typically dose dependent, heavily affected by which particular drug a bodybuilder or athlete uses, and grossly exaggerated by the media. Generally, the more androgenic a steroid is, the more negative side effects it tends to engender.
My step brother started out as a natural bodybuilder. After not seeing him for many years, I noticed his increased muscular development when he came to town for a visit. When we hit the beach on the second day, his shirtless shoulders displayed the evidence that he’d become a “juicer” in the interlude: a roadmap of deep “zit scars” peppered his rear delts and upper back.
Anabolic steroids, especially the most androgenic of these drugs, tend to cause the sebaceous glands in the skin to secrete more oil. This can cause the breakout of heavy acne, especially in the areas of the back, neck, and face. Although it’s said that this most unsightly of the side effects of using steroids can be countered with certain drugs or avoided by abstinence from certain steroids, it remains a dead giveaway that a bodybuilder is soliciting “pharmaceutical help” in his quest to build muscle when it rears its ugly head.
Hypertension/High Blood Pressure
This side effect of using steroids is brought about by anabolic drugs that have a high propensity to ‘aromatize’ into estrogens. As estrogen levels rise in the body, so does the level of sodium and water retention – leading to elevated blood pressure. This can often be amplified by intense weight training workouts and rapid gains in body weight. Untreated high blood pressure can raise the chances of cardiovascular disease and eventual kidney failure.
Kidney Stress and Damage
Although the danger of kidney damage is most threatening to those prone to prolonged and super-elevated blood pressure, the possible strain to this internal organ should not be ignored by those considering the use of anabolic steroids. The kidneys are vital to the filtration and removal of byproducts from our bodies. Those using steroids, especially the highly androgenic kind, might cause the kidneys to work especially hard as most of the elements in these pharmaceutical compounds are excreted from the body through the urine.
Liver Stress and Damage
Many years ago when I was educating myself about the side effects of using steroids, it became readily apparent that most of the horror stories regarding liver damage from steroid use revolved around one particular steroid drug: Anadrol 50®. That’s because this drug is a c17 alpha alkylated compound, which makes it capable of being administered orally. In addition to this being an oral steroid, it contains a whopping 50 mg. of active steroid per tablet. Although I can’t tell you from any personal experience, I’ll assume that’s a lot because a daily small handful of those prescribed to medical patients has been known to cause severe liver damage over time. In some cases, it’s led to liver cancer.
Orally administered steroids are particularly hard on the liver compared with injectable drugs that don’t need the extent of chemical breakdown performed by this organ. The process of extensive breakdown of these compounds can actually damage the liver cells. This has an inhibitive effect on the liver’s ability to break down and excrete waste products from the body. Prolonged usage of oral steroids has occasionally led to peliosis hepatitis, a condition whereby the liver develops blood-filled cysts. Although rare, this condition can be life threatening.
Because steroid use comprises the introduction of an ‘exogenous’ (outside source) of the male hormone testosterone to the body, the user’s ‘endogenous production’ (bodily source) of this hormone eventually shuts down during steroid use. This can leave the body without much source of testosterone once the “steroid cycle” has concluded. A subsequent suppressed level of testosterone coupled with a raised level of estrogen (from aromatization of the steroids) can cause a hormone imbalance that often results in negative mood swings for the drug-using bodybuilder or athlete.
The severity of this side effect of using steroids is probably greatly dependent on the dosages of drugs administered and/or the duration of the steroid cycle. The longer and heavier the use of drugs, the more severe and prolonged the suppression of one’s own testosterone production.
Often adding to this physiologically-induced depression is the psychological exacerbation of witnessing much of one’s strength and muscular gains diminishing after a cycle. With endogenous levels of testosterone being inadequate to build or even preserve muscular gains, the “juicer” may experience bodybuilding regression – something bound to depress anyone with a voracious enough appetite for muscle building to resort to the drugs in the first place.
It should be noted that steroid cycles are often successfully followed by the use of drugs like HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadatropin) in order to “kick-start” endogenous hormone production. However, what should also be contemplated is the fact that, despite these “post-cycle therapy drugs”, some bodybuilders and athletes acquire what appears to be a psychological addiction to steroids due at least in part to their respective proneness to post-cycle depression for the reasons cited. I knew an incessant steroid user who actually admitted his body was no longer capable of producing its own testosterone. He was afraid to ever go off exogenous testosterone therapy because he sensed his body would “crash” if he did. This could be viewed as a combination of both psychological and physical addiction – the possibility of which should be considered before ever resorting to the use of these drugs.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a metabolite of testosterone and often rises in the body with the use of anabolic steroids. This is especially the case when bodybuilders and athletes use drugs such as testosterone, methyltestosterone, and Halotestin, which are strong 5-alpha reducible androgens. It appears that the heightened level of DHT combined with elevated levels of estrogen (from steroid aromatization) might contribute to the condition of benign prostatic enlargement – especially in older steroid users. The immediate and obvious effect of this condition is reduced urine flow and increased sensation for the need to urinate in those who experience it.
Although my impulsive recommendation for avoiding this one of many ‘side effects of using steroids’ is to stick with natural bodybuilding, I realize some mature bodybuilders will choose to do otherwise. For them, I’ll recommend steering clear of the above-mentioned steroids as well as other highly androgenic drugs such as Proviron, Dianabol, and Anadrol 50®.
The same culprit that could contribute to prostate enlargement (DHT) can accelerate the progression of male pattern baldness in those who are genetically prone to it. In fact, younger men who experience male pattern baldness in the absence of steroid use tend to have the genetic predisposition for both finer hair follicles and higher DHT levels. The negative results of this combination can easily be exacerbated by the use of anabolic steroids as they accentuate the ‘high DHT’ side of the equation. This, like acne, is one of the cosmetic side effects of using steroids, but represents more permanency within this context as the effect tends to be irreversible.
Again, my advice for averting this side effect (along with all others) is to engage in effective natural bodybuilding. However, for those who choose otherwise, the best advice for reducing hair loss is to avoid drugs like testosterone, Halotestin, Anadrol 50®, and Dianabol®. The most favored anabolic steroid for avoiding this side effect is Deca-Durabolin®. Also, the use of ancillary drugs such as Propecia® can inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, thus reducing two of the ‘high DHT’ side effects of using steroids: prostate enlargement and hair loss.
Gynecomastia - one possible side effect of using steroids
It is commonly known that there’s “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. The HDL (high density lipoprotein) type is the cholesterol we want more of for better cardiovascular health while the LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the type we want to reduce. The use of anabolic/androgenic steroids tends to send this ratio in an unfavorable direction over time – reducing the good stuff and raising the level of the kind that leaves plaque on the arterial walls while increasing total cholesterol at the same time.
This negative cardiovascular effect of the side effects of using steroids, when combined with a tendency among some of these drugs to raise blood pressure, makes it of paramount importance to have these readings professionally monitored, especially in older bodybuilders and athletes who choose to use these drugs.
Natural bodybuilding is the way to go in my book. However, for those who insist on going the steroid route, it appears that the injectable steroids have less of a negative impact on HDL/LDL cholesterol ratios than do the orally administered drugs.
Back in the early 1990s, I was acquainted with a former steroid user who adamantly recommended abstaining from even experimenting with their use to anyone who would listen. In talking with him, I discovered that he’d experienced a nightmare battle with one of the side effects of using steroids that was both painful and unsightly: Gynecomastia; a condition whereby the male body begins developing female breast tissue. A genetic predisposition had made this negative side effect an acutely dramatic and embarrassing event for him, eventually requiring surgery in order to remove the unwanted tissue.
A percentage of the hormone testosterone ‘aromatizes’ into estrogen in the male body. This is for the simple reason that males require a certain amount of the female hormone in order to function properly. It stands to reason, therefore, that if you jack up your testosterone levels with exogenous sources of the hormone (steroids), you’ll also jack up your estrogen levels. When this heightened level of estrogen acts upon receptor sites in the mammary gland region of a man’s body, female type breast tissue growth is often the undesirable result. The odds of this more cosmetic-centered of the side effects of using steroids is increased when using highly aromatizing androgens such as testosterone and Dianabol.
Short of abstaining from steroid use completely (my recommendation) or at least avoiding the ones most prone to aromatization (such as the two mentioned), there are estrogen antagonist drugs that can reduce the likelihood of affliction of this condition or at least the severity of the problem if it’s encountered. The most common of these are Clomid® and Nolvadex®. Alternatives to these are aromatase inhibitors, such as Proviron® and Arimidex®, which work by reducing the enzyme that converts the increased testosterone to estrogen.
The body’s natural testosterone production works on a loop-feedback system. When the monitoring feature of this system (the hypothalamus) senses there’s more than adequate testosterone in circulation within the body, it ceases sending a signal to the testes to produce endogenous testosterone. Prolonged administering of exogenous forms of testosterone (anabolic/androgenic steroids) can therefore cause the body’s own production of this hormone to shut down until the loop-feedback system can be “jump-started” again. In the interim, low testosterone levels can naturally lead to sexual apathy or downright impotence; quite an embarrassing predicament, I’d imagine, for an otherwise muscularly-virile appearing body.
The aforementioned list of side effects of using steroids is by no means exhaustive, nor is it implied that all or any of the listed effects afflict all users in every case of usage. So much is dependent on so many variables. People often respond differently from the side effects of mild drugs like aspirin, so it stands to reason that variances would be even more pronounced with drugs such as steroids.
One effect of using steroids that might be a subjective projection on my part, yet a pronounced observation nonetheless, is the possibility that prior regular users of these drugs often don’t learn to ever make physique progress without them. In my twenty-five years of bodybuilding, I’ve witnessed many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts who grew accustomed to the easy progress these drugs provided finding themselves completely lost when they realized they couldn’t utilize steroids indefinitely. Without the knowledge of natural training and how to customize it to their bodies, they’ve simply allowed themselves to go downhill since they’ve stopped “cycling.”
This more subtle of the side effects of using steroids might be the biggest pitfall representing just how fleeting the benefits of using them can be.