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December 2012

“Should I Take Steroids?” Not ‘til you’ve read this

Back when I was personally asking the question “should I take steroids”, there was plenty of dissuading info being published that would ultimately lead me to answer “no.” One such influence was a letter-to-the-editor of one of the major bodybuilding magazines. It was a long letter. It spoke of the writer’s own wrestling with the “should I take steroids” question; a personal inquiry that ultimately resulted in significant use of those drugs. The letter was written and published in the early 90s, making it of little surprise that the content of its story went down in the relatively heedless mid-80s. That heedlessness ultimately led to the letter writer’s contraction of HIV from a shared steroid needle, a tragic turn-of-event that sounds rather foreign in a contemporary context.

Anabolic steroidsWhat seemed to really punctuate the story for me, however, was the letter author’s parting words:

“The steroids weren’t worth it.”

Did the letter-writer say this out of bitterness for the bigger consequence to which his steroid use led? Or did he have a more all-encompassing, cryptic message for anyone asking the question “should I take steroids”; a message conveying that the physique gains from drugs are transitory against unforeseen pitfalls that are permanent?

“Should I Take Steroids”… or are they ‘psychologically addictive?’

When I was personally confronted with the “should I take steroids” question, I’d been speaking with a military buddy about it. This was roughly 25 years ago. Even so, I clearly recall him advising me that although these drugs aren’t physically addictive, it’s plausible that they’re psychologically so. This hardly sounded threatening to me at that tender age. After all, whether something psychologically “addicts me” should be completely within my control. I scoffed at the notion. If I ever “experimented” with them, I could surely turn away from them whenever I saw fit.

However, thinking back at some of the interviews of (and articles about) steroid users I’ve perused, one of the more salient features is the obnoxious tone of the psychological dependence on steroids that can so blatantly rear its head. That’s what stood out in such an interview of a steroid addict I saw years ago in one of the major offline bodybuilding magazines. It’s also what comes through in this article recently posted in Business Insider.

The Business Insider’ article begins by mentioning the rampant culture of steroid use by both males and females in South Florida. It goes on to introduce a New Jersey guy, opting for anonymity through the pseudo-name ‘Joey O’, who started the drugs when he’d youthfully left the Marine Corp and cycled them regularly ‘til the age of 42. Now facing depressed testosterone levels from years of heavy steroid use, ‘Joey O’ takes his weekly prescription of testosterone enanthate so that he can experience “normal” testosterone levels.  

That is the kind of predicament that’s rarely foreseen by young guys asking the question ‘should I take steroids.’ Whom among us, in our shortsighted youth, stop to think just twenty years ahead and become sufficiently repulsed by the idea of having to depend on an exogenous source of manly hormone to sidestep being “superman” in the moment? And by the time someone’s become as dependent on a substance for being macho as has ‘Joey O’, what’s the big deal in getting a shot of replacement testosterone every one or two weeks? After all, it’s a practice used by aging guys with low T-levels who’ve never even used steroids.

Personally, I’d rather have my ‘endogenous mojo’ intact. Sure, maybe the full benefit of that wouldn’t be realized unless Armageddon goes down and every guy on ‘exogenous T’ finds his pharmacist out of the office and wonders where the rest of us get the drive to simply get up in the morning. Still… there’s just something better about knowing you’ve got enough male hormone made by your own body to produce muscle and anything else. That’s something to at least contemplate if you’re asking the ‘should I take steroids’ question.

Back to the question: Are steroids psychologically addictive?

Maybe for some people they are and others they aren’t. But just read about juicer ‘Joey O’ and then try to convince yourself they can’t be.

‘Should I Take Steroids’… or does Every Shortcut Have a Price?

Steroids are powerful drugs. As with most drugs, I’m sure they can be dangerously abused or utilized in a relatively safe and wise manner. That’s why I’ve conjoined this section of the ‘should I take steroids’ question with the counter question ‘does every shortcut have a price’ rather than “are steroids dangerous.” I’m sure they can be life-threateningly dangerous. They can also likely be administered in a way that makes steroid side-effects no more than a mild nuisance. Potential negative side effects

But most (if not all) drug use comes with the price-tag of side effects. These usually vary in number and severity, depending on the specific drug taken, dosage it’s taken in, and duration of time that it’s used. Obviously, side effects can also be divided into two types: ‘acute’ and ‘chronic.’ And just because a particular drug doesn’t produce an acute (short term) negative side effect in an individual doesn’t mean it won’t cause chronic (long term) negative effects. Conversely, acute negative side-effects don’t automatically equate to the chronic type. 

With these points in mind, it’s interesting that the steroid article cites ‘renal failure’ and ‘liver failure’ in the same sentence, possibly as a mix-up in definition. ‘Joey O’ acknowledges that using the drug ‘Anadrol’ can be like a “bullet right to the liver.” It’s then mentioned by the article’s author:

“The liver is hit so hard by Anadrol that renal failure is more likely than not.”

‘Renal failure’ is failure of the kidneys. It’s possible the author was referring to reduced liver function eventually leading to kidney failure. Or he might have simply been confusing renal failure as a word connoting liver failure. I’m not sure. But it’s probably worth mentioning that there have been cases of kidney failure believed caused by the long-term use of steroids. The liver, however, is more directly stressed by these drugs as it is the filter through which the body’s toxins must be removed. It’s also more resilient than the kidneys in its ability to heal from damage over time. But the kidneys can be indirectly stressed by steroids as these drugs frequently cause high blood pressure which can cause long-term damage to this extremely vital organ. Overall, the chance you’re willing to take with the health of these two vital organs is something to consider when asking “should I take steroids.” 

Something else to contemplate when asking the ‘should I take steroids’ question are the inevitable withdrawal symptoms you’d likely face when coming off the drugs. These are listed in the ‘Business Insider’ article as follows: mood swings, insomnia, restlessness, reduced libido, decreased appetite, and depression. Not a pretty list. ‘Joey O’ is mentioned as finally getting past this phase by being prescribed “raw testosterone” (testosterone enanthate). But this seems a pretty sad state of affairs: Going back on a testosterone drug that will only assure the further dormancy of one’s own testosterone production. The problems are caused in the first place by a shutdown of endogenous testosterone. Seems the ‘testosterone dealers’ win in the end with a sort of locked in dependency group.

Yet another possible price to pay for even just the possession of anabolic steroids is the legal one. In the article about ‘Joey O’, it’s mentioned that what finally got him off the drugs was the legal ramifications: Simple possession of the drugs in Florida is a felony with a five-year prison penalty attached. This makes sense given that in the United States, each state has its own laws on the books regarding steroids. In addition, there are laws at the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act of 1990 and reinforced under the Controlled Substances Act of 2004. These U.S. federal laws make steroids a ‘Schedule III Controlled Substance’, meaning anabolic/androgenic steroids are legal to possess and use only with a prescription.

‘Should I Take Steroids’… or would it just make me a desperate Drug Dependent?

Do you want the often fleeting condition of simply being a “person with big muscles?” Or do you want to be a knowledgeable, healthy, lifetime bodybuilder who has the fortitude and know-how to add natural strength and size to your body or that of anyone you train? Wouldn’t you rather have the kind of strength and muscle size that lasts and can be built upon for a lifetime?

These might be the transcendent questions to ask in accompaniment with “should I take steroids.” When I reflect on my ultimate decision to steer clear of those drugs and be a lifetime natural bodybuilder, I’m reminded of the many drug using guys I’ve seen in the gym who’ve just fallen by the wayside. Either this or their inevitable withdrawal of the drugs has produced a rebound effect resulting in muscular development that doesn’t match mine in our middle-aged years.

In reading the article in Business Insider, it’s clear that ‘Joey O’ doesn’t even have the fortitude to get to the gym without resorting to further drug intake. That’s where many long-term steroid users find themselves. It’s not only due to depressed endogenous hormone production from the drugs – it’s because they don’t have a clue how to build muscle without drugs.

The subconscious realization of this might be what’s implicitly surfacing when someone occasionally confesses in hindsight:

“The steroids weren’t worth it.”


“Does Nugenix Work”; does it boost testosterone

The latest “testosterone booster” to be touted in ads all over the Internet is called Nugenix. It’s manufactured for and marketed by GNC. The product’s marketers make the usual claims that are associated with all other ‘natural’ testosterone boosters, i.e.: Improved libido, more muscle mass, higher energy, better well-being… etc.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But ‘does Nugenix work’; does it increase testosterone?

Nugenix-testosterone boosterWhile many of us in the muscle building world are familiar with the product’s ingredients and amplified claims that accompany them, those individuals in the market that this product’s advertising is targeting might not be quite as aware of the hype. Many are middle-aged to older men. They simply want to spike what they perceive as flagging energy and libido. A pill containing natural ingredients is the best way to do it. The appeal is simple: take the tablets, feel the energy and increased libido, watch the body fat go down, watch the muscles expand…  ‘Nirvana’; “who needs to work at this?”

That is… if Nugenix works. But does Nugenix work?

Let’s take an objective look at the ingredients to analyze that.

‘Does Nugenix Work?’ A look at the ingredients

Those asking the “does Nugenix work” question should first know what’s in the product and whether any of those individual ingredients have been shown to boost testosterone. The so-called main ingredient in Nugenix is listed as ‘Testofen™’, a proprietary extract from the Fenugreek plant. Along with this is the plant extract Tribulus Terrestris, an ingredient that’s long been hyped as a T-booster. The other ingredients listed are citrulline malate (an amino acid) along with 50 mg. of zinc and vitamins B6 and B12.

Obviously, the citrulline, zinc, and B-vitamin ingredients were merely included as support additives. They can be acquired in adequate amounts from either a well-balanced diet or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. Therefore, the claim of Nugenix being capable of raising natural testosterone is primarily based on the alleged power of ‘Testofen™’ and ‘Tribulus’ to spur more testosterone production.

I’ve already written my opinion of Tribulus right here, if you care to read it. If not, you can go with this summarization: both the objective and anecdotal evidence for that herb being effective at boosting testosterone in humans are not good.

This should raise good questions in the mind of any thinking person: If Testofen™ raises testosterone, why would Tribulus Terrestris need to be combined with it? Conversely, if Tribulus Terrestris ever had been effective, why would marketers need to jump on a newer claim of the same effects being derivable from the Fenugreek in Testofen™? This second question should be especially salient given that Tribulus Terrestris has been around as a supplement for a long time.

I often wonder stuff like that. The assumption we’re obviously supposed to buy into is that both these extracts have always done what’s claimed about them and that combining them makes them… well, reeeeally effective.

‘Does Nugenix Work’ translates to “Does Fenugreek Work”

With its supportive ingredients being unlikely to boost testosterone and the probable ineffectuality of Tribulus, Nugenix would need to rely on the Fenugreek extract to be effective. Thus, the question “does Nugenix work” is more a question of ‘does Fenugreek increase testosterone.’

There’s only one published study I’m aware of that claims a positive answer to that question. In fact, the study claims a finding of near doubling of ‘free testosterone’ – the bodily form of the hormone that will actually help build muscle, burn fat, and boost libido.  Only drawback – the study was not done independently; it was funded and performed by the company that trademarked and markets Testofen™. That makes objectivity a near impossibility.

BTW… ‘Free testosterone’ runs at about 2-3% of ‘total testosterone.’ So if you’ve got a test result for your ‘total T-levels’ being at, say… 500 ng./dL. , then your free testosterone would be (at best) around 15 ng./dL.

It so happens that the guys used in this study reportedly started with an average free testosterone level of 17.76. This was among 55 healthy male volunteer subjects ranging in age from 18-35. The said purpose of the eight-week study was to discover whether Testofen™ (fenugreek extract) safely increases free testosterone and/or decreases body fat. Of the subjects who completed the study, 29 received two doses of Testofen™ per day at 300 mg. per dose. The other 26 participants received a placebo.

What were the results? Huge Triceps

According to Gencor Pacific (the company behind the study – and product), not only did free T-levels almost double (98.81% increase), but body fat was also significantly reduced in the test group. This was purportedly indicated by a decrease in skinfold caliper measurement within these subjects without an accompanying drop in body weight.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? If you’d like to read the company’s PDF on the study, you can see it right here.

A 2009 study, however, showed a different result. This one, another double-blind test, was published here in the International Journal of Exercise Science and involved 45 male subjects, half of whom took 500 mg. of Fenugreek extract per day while the other half took a placebo for the eight week experiment. The subjects were all weight trained individuals and underwent a resistance training protocol during the study. This one showed no increase in testosterone (or any other tested hormone) and, in fact, only showed a slight decrease in DHT (dihydrotestosterone) in the group taking the fenugreek extract.

‘Does Nugenix Work’… and if so, how would it “work?”

If a product can naturally stimulate more testosterone production, there are a couple of ways by which it could work. That’s because male testosterone production happens through a loop feedback axis. When the hypothalamus in the brain detects blood testosterone levels as being too low, it sends a signal to the testes via lutienizing hormone (LH). It conversely reduces its output of LH when it gets readings that T-levels are adequate. If a substance could stimulate LH output, it could result in more testosterone. If a substance acts similarly to LH itself, thus directly stimulating the leydig cells in the testes, it could result in higher T-levels as well.

There’s an additional, indirect way that a substance could naturally raise testosterone levels. This would be by suppressing the antagonists of testosterone. There are two major ones to be aware of: estrogen and SHGB (Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin).  

Estrogen is created in the male body (in a form called ‘estradiol’) by way of an enzyme called aromatase. The aromatase converts some of the testosterone molecules into estradiol molecules. This is natural and normal as we guys designed to have some estrogen. When too much conversion takes place, however, estrogen can get too high and begin to fill the cell receptor sites where testosterone would otherwise reside. This can adversely affect testosterone levels because the estrogen filling these receptor sites often sends a ‘false signal’ to the hypothalamus – effectively convincing it that the sites possess testosterone and that T-levels are, therefore, adequate.

Bottom line: high estrogen equals lower testosterone. Thus, if a product can reduce estrogen directly, or it reduces aromatase, it could raise testosterone.


Testosterone

Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin (SHBG), on the other hand, is what directly controls how much ‘free testosterone’ is available. It is a glycoprotein that’s produced primarily in the liver and has 98% of ‘total testosterone’ “bound up” at any given time. Therefore, ‘free testosterone’ – which is the biologically active form that affects muscle, libido, body composition, energy levels, etc. – can be increased either directly or indirectly: It can be directly increased by reducing the amount of SHBG or it can be indirectly increased by raising the production of ‘total testosterone.’

BTW… higher estrogen levels have been shown to increase SHBG levels – another means by which excessive estrogen can lower testosterone.

Given those explanations, there are only a few ways in which Nugenix could work if the “does Nugenix work” question could be answered in the positive:

  • Directly stimulating the leydig cells to produce more testosterone
  • Stimulating more LH release which, in turn, stimulates the leydig cells
  • Reducing levels of estradiol in the body
  • Reducing SHBG levels in the body

Any one of these routes could lead to higher ‘free testosterone.’ If researchers had discovered their proprietary product could effectively double this small percentage of the hormone, you’d think they’d explain the means by which it occurred.

‘Does Nugenix Work’: Conclusion

Personally, if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put a wager on Nugenix “working” to increase testosterone. And as recommendations go, I’d tell a guy wanting to raise his T-levels to shift his focus toward high workout intensity, reduced body fat, and better eating habits with an emphasis on more cruciferous vegetables.

However, I realize I’m a bit jaded in my long-ago experience in the dietary supplement-taking department.  Consequently, I’m open to any comments of anecdotal experience in using Nugenix; let us know what you think if you’ve used this product.

Your comments are appreciated.