Hello friends. After my trilogy, where I talked about the importance of Mind Power in your training, as well as what are the best memory and mind supplements, today we will talk about the most controversial topic in the bodybuilding scene. Drugs VS. Natural!
When someone starts a topic like that, it is certain that he will hear many positive and negative comments. I know that maybe some of the things I will say and analyze, you won't all agree with.
But what I want to do, since this site is giving me the opportunity, is to pass on some messages about your health! (Especially to teenagers, because something that makes me nervous is that recent studies have shown that 6.5% of adolescent boys and 1.9% of girls reported the use of steroids without a prescription!)
I won't start this article by giving exaggerated facts, or by warning that "steroids are evil" or "if you take them you will immediately die." My point is to give the best scientific references of what they can do. I won't tell you also lies friends, by telling you that you won't have a better performance if you use them, and you can have the same results if you just eat good, train hard, recuperate enough, and take your normal supplements.
Proven Side Effects
Steroids do work, but what are the most probable consequences that will happen to you if you starting taking them?
Scientific Truth VS. Scientific Fiction
Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone that are taken to build muscle, enhance performance, and improve appearance. The drugâ€™s anabolic or "muscle-building" effects help the body retain protein, a necessary building block for the growth of muscles, bones, and skin.
These artificial substances were developed in the 1930's originally to help men whose bodies produced inadequate amounts of the natural hormone that is responsible for the development of masculine characteristics occurring at puberty, such as lowering of the voice and growth of body hair.
Now don't misunderstand some things here. You won't get huge if you start injecting yourself every day with one of the many "testosterone treatments" or with GH (Growth Hormone). If you don't eat huge quantities of food and train like a real warrior in the gym, nothing good will happen to you, no matter what.
The best thing that steroids can do is help those who use them to recover from their workout much faster than a natural bodybuilder. When natural bodybuilders need at least 48 hours rest before they train again in order to continue increasing their muscle bodymass, steroid users need just a few hours!
When most of us should not train more than 3-4 times per week, and every time we train we should not spend more than 1 hour in the gym, people that use steroids can easily train 6 times per week, splitting their sessions in morning and afternoon training, as well as they are able to spend easily 2 hours in the gym, getting stronger and bigger, week after week. (That's something that would make any natural bodybuilder get overtrained in no time!)
Consequently, these people are able to train longer and recuperate faster, making it much easier for them to increase their muscle mass as well as their strength. I would like also to present to you some facts about what else steroid use can produce.
The major side effects of anabolic steroid use include liver tumors, jaundice (yellowish pigmentation of skin, tissues, and body fluids), fluid retention, enlargement of the heart, (a precursor to heart failure), high blood pressure, atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, (a precursor to coronary heart disease) elevated cholesterol levels, heart palpitations, heart attack, and finally steroids can impair the kidneys leading to kidney stones and kidney disease. The most common side effects are severe acne and trembling.
Additional Side Effects
For men: shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, development of breasts.
For women: growth of facial hair, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice.
For adolescents: growth halted pre maturely through premature skeletal maturation and accelerated pubertal changes.
Most Noticeable Changes
Athletes that use steroids can be identified by:
- Quick weight and muscle gain
- Purple or red-colored spots on the body
- Swelling of feet or lower legs
- Unexplained darkening of the skin
- Bad breath
- Increased aggressive behavior ("roid rage")
Finally you should not forget that some physiological effects of steroid use can have profound effects on the mind, causing temporary personality changes in some. Users may exhibit uncontrolled aggression and violent behavior called "roid rage", in addition to severe mood swings, manic episodes, and depression.
The Five Steroid Facts
The facts and the scientific evidence that we have to support how hazardous the use of anabolic steroids can be for your health is plenty. But I would prefer to present to you 5 of the most profound examples. After searching a lot and spending a lot of time trying to find the 5 best, here they are!
My first two facts will be based on the most important muscle in the human body. The heart! When one uses anabolic steroids, they do because they want their muscles to grow right?
Ok, as we said, steroids do make your muscles grow more (that's the good part), but they affect ALL the body's muscle growth (including the heart of course, and thats the bad part). The heart is a muscle that is also affected by steroids and the health consequences can be very very serious.
A group of bodybuilders who used steroids were compared to bodybuilders who had never used steroids.
The men's hearts were examined using echocardiography, (a type of sonar picture that allows doctors to see the heart without having to use any invasive procedures).
They found that during steroid cycles the users had left ventricles (the main pumping chamber of the heart) that were 25% greater in mass than the non-users! This increas in mass caused the walls of the steroid user's heart muscle to be almost 20% thicker while on steroids! Although the heart was bigger during active steroid use, the cardiovascular fitness of these individuals was nearly 18% less than non-users.
When the steroid users were off the steroids, their heart size decreased, but never fully returned to its normal size!1,2 Now, if some of you think that it was just a "coincidence" and nothing more, read the second fact very carefully.
A study published in the journal "Cardiology" (1997;88:50-51), offered a unique perspective of the effects of long term anabolic steroid usage and heart function. The study was unique because it involved fraternal twin bodybuilders, one of whom has used steroids for 15 years, while the other was drug free. Both of these men had trained for over 20 years.
They were described in the study as "extremely large with profound muscular hypertrophy". They had won several state and national titles in bodybuilding and powerlifting. The twins had bodyfat levels below 10 percent, and followed the same diet and training regime on a yearly basis.
Hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscle size, due to the enlargement of the size of the cells as a result from strencth training.
The primary test to access their cardiac function was echocardiography. (As I previously said, it's a machine that uses reflected ultra sonic waves to show the structure and function of the heart.)
Both men showed normal blood pressure readings. The drug-free twin showed a testosterone level of 6.2 nanongrams per mililiter of blood, and the steroid twin had a higher than normal level of 11.5 ng/ml! (The normal range for testosterone is 2.8-8.8, and as you can easily understand, the steroid twin had testosterone levels almost 3 times the high normal level)
The echocardiography tests showed that both men, with similar genetic backrounds and the same training and diet regimes, showed little difference in gross heart function. However, the steroid user showed a LARGER left ventricular wall size with a decreased ventricular compliance. (That means that the pumping chamber of his heart was LARGER than his brother's, while also being a bit stiffer!)
The heart stiffness that occurs in steroid-using bodybuilders is thought to be brought on by an increased sensitivity of heart muscle to catacholamines, such as epinephrine, induced by steroids. And guess what friends, this scenario may have played a role in the sudden deaths due to heart failure that have occured in a small percentage of regular steroid users.
Cohen and co-workers at the University of Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa, examined the influence of self administered anabolic steroids on lipids in bodybuilders.
Ten men used a steroid drug and eight men served as controls (placebo). The two groups were equal in their physical and competitive characteristics. The scientists found that serum lipoprotein (L-a) a genetic determinant of risk for cardiac disease, was reduced. (HDL-C over LDL-C was reduced).
>That means that lipid profile investigations of individuals taking anabolic steroids have shown that high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C, a.k.a good cholesterol), decreases, while low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C a.k.a bad cholesterol), increases!3
A study published in the British Medical Journal (313;4-5:1996), looked at five cases of steroid using bodybuilders who had showed up at an infertility clinic. While the men in this study took extensive doses of several anabolic steroids, none of them claimed to know about the fertility reprecussions associated with long term use of the drugs. Incredibly, all of these men, showed ZERO sperm counts!
This fact has to do with GH. Shortly before his death, one famous former pro football player (a big name in 80's), attributed his brain cancer to a long course of anabolic steroids which he claimed to have used for nearly 26 years. But in other statements, this unfortunate pro footballer, suggested that his more recent use of human growth hormone was the thing that really kindled his fatal brain T-cell lymphoma.
More recently, one very famous bodybuilder (I won't say his name but I bet most of you will understand immediately to whom I am refering), said that according to his doctors who treated him for leukemia, it was not his use of anabolic steroids that caused the disease, but rather the growth hormone injections he has also taken!
Also you have to know that there is research showing an increased incidence of leukemia in Japanese children being treated for growth hormone deficiency and dwarfism!4
After reading these 5 facts friends, I hope you have realized that steroid use is totally worthless for you. There is no point in getting a great body, then also a "sick" body. There is no point in looking good now, just to look terrible after 10-20 years. (If you can stay alive.)
Every person's priority should be to live longer and healthier! Many bodybuilders now might say that I am exaggerating things. I have heard often: "C'mon John, I am not doing many cycles per year, I am taking great care, I know where to stop", etc.
Well, in my next week's article, I will tell you my personal thoughts, and what I believe will be the future of bodybuilding as a sport. (Also giving some good suggestions to make the sport better). Stay tuned!
- Melchert RB, Welder AA. Med. Sci. Sports Exer., 1995:27:1252-1262
- Sachtleben TR, et al. Med. Sci. Sports Exer., 1992;25:1240-1245
- Cohen, L.l. et al. Med. Sci. Sports Exer. 28(2):176-179, 1996
- Blethen, S. (1998). Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 9: 367-370.