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By Jack Medina, M.A.
Steroids are synthetic derivatives of the powerful male sex hormone, testosterone. In males, it is produced in the testes, and is regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain. In females, it is produced in the adrenal glands. Science refers to steroids as anabolic-androgenic. Anabolic (tissue building) effects include increase in muscle mass and protein synthesis. Androgenic (masculinity effects) include deepening of the voice, increase in body and facial hair, and altered libido. Anabolic steroids can be taken orally, or by inter-muscular injection. They are used in cycles of 6-12 weeks and are frequently stacked, meaning more than one type of steroid (or other drug) is used simultaneously.

Possible Side Effects:

There are a host of well-documented negative effects. Possibly the most distinguishing is that the long-term effects are uncertain. However, steroids pose serious threats to several organs of the body. The potential for side effects is based on the type and amount of steroid being used as well as individual tolerances. These side effects are heavily documented in the medical literature: potential for adverse consequences to the liver (peliosis hepatitis, liver tumors, liver cancer, impaired excretory function, jaundice, and liver dysfunction); kidneys (kidney dysfunction, kidney stones, and Wilm’s Tumor); and cardiovascular system (hypertension and elevated cholesterol).

Miscellaneous Effects:
  • Stunted growth – which is irreversible
  • Connective tissue abnormalities which can lead to tendon and ligament injuries.
  • If injected, the user risks blood poisoning and the spread of communicable diseases including AIDS; also possible sudden death due to anaphylactic shock.
  • Acne anywhere on the body – most commonly the upper back.
  • Fluid retention
  • Unprovoked nosebleeds
  • Arthritis
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Hair loss
Finally, steroid use often leads to use of other drugs – sometimes in the attempt to control side effects from the steroids.

Psychological Effects:
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Euphoria
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Increased or decreased libido
  • Depression
Note: The most frequently documented psychological effect side effect is an increased level of unpredictable hostility and aggression commonly referred to as "Roid Rage."

Women who take steroids are subject to gender-specific side effects as well. When a woman takes anabolic steroids, she is essentially a female turning male. They may experience irreversible physical changes including enlargement of the clitoris, decreased breast size, deepening of the voice, and increased facial and body hair. Menstrual irregularities such as diminution or cessation have been reported. In addition, women who use steroids increase their risk of bearing children with birth defects. During pregnancy, steroids can cause masculinization of the fetus. Other potential side effects include risk of breast cancer and uterine atrophy.

Legal Issues:

Currently, transportation or distribution of steroids is punishable by fines of up to $500,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 15 years. They are banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.

American College of Sports Medicine Position:

The ACSM condemns the development and use of new "designer" steroids. It considers chemicals, such s recently identified Tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, developed and cloaked to avoid detection by doping tests, as serious threats to the health and safety of athletes, as well as detriments to the principal of fair play in sports. Any effort to veil or disguise steroid use in sports through stealth, designer, or precursor means, puts professional, amateur and even recreational athletes at risk.

The health risks of designer steroids compared to or beyond symptoms of anabolic steroid use are currently unknown.

The American College of Sports Medicine calls for national compliance with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) regulations and to the World Anti-doping Code. The College stresses the need for "clean" athletes, those not taking performance-enhancing drugs or supplements, to publicly deplore the use of steroids among their teammates and peers. Individuals who influence young athletes, such as parents and coaches, should establish a no-tolerance policy for performance-enhancing substances, and intervene whenever necessary.

The Alternative:

The desire to be the biggest, fastest or strongest is one of the things that differentiates a good athlete from great athlete. However, this ultimate goal can be reached without the use of steroids. It can be achieved the old-fashioned way: through hard work, dedication, a strong will, and a desire to be the best.

  1. Tolbert, K. 1999.The Straight Dope on Steroids. Maximize Your Training: 403-407.
  2. Corrigan, B. 1996. Anabolic Steroids and the Mind. Medical Journal of Australia 165 (4): 222-226.
  3. Duesterr, P.A., ed 1997. The Navy Seal Fitness Guide. Dept. of Military and Emergency Medicine: 221-233
  4. Pope, H.G., and D.L. Katz, 1994. Psychiatric and Medical Effects of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Use. Archives of General Psychiatry 51: 375-382.
  5. Rogol, A.D., and C.E. Yesalis, 1992. Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids and Athletes: What are the Issues? Journal of Clinical Endrocrinology an Metabolism 74: 465-469.
  6. Su, T.P., M. Pagliaro, P.J. Schmidt, D. Pickar,O. Wolkowits and D.R. Rubinow, 1993. Neuropsychiatric Effects of Anabolic Steroids in Male Normal Volunteers. Journal of the American Medical Association 269: 2760-2764.
  7. Pure Power Magazine, January 2004, American College of Sports Medicine, "Steroids Threaten Health of Athletes And Integrity of Sports Performance," page 44.

Author/speaker and an expert in ”Sports Performance Enhancement”. Jack Medina is available for speaking engagements, consultation and personal training of athletes in various sports, professional and amateur. Jack has written a new book, “The Winning Edge: Fueling & Training The Body For Peak Performance” with Dr. Roy Vartabedian, an internationally known New York Times Best Selling Author of the “Nutripoints” program for optimal nutrition. Both books are available online at Jack also has a monthly ezine (newsletter) available free which can be subscribed to on his website. All subscriber’s addresses will be confidential and not sold or given to any other organization or group.

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