Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids (AAS) are synthetic
versions of testosterone
. They are often used to promote growth
of muscle and bones
because of their ability to increase cell growth and division but can
also increase growth in other bodily tissues as well.
There are many different types of anabolic steroids and they each have
a different combination of anabolic and androgenic
characteristics. They are sometimes referred to as AAS or
First discovered in the 1930's anabolic
steroids have many medicinal uses. Bone growth,
appetite, puberty and muscle growth can all be stimulated with use of
anabolic steroids. They have also been proven successful in
treatment for chronic wasting in cancer and AIDS patients.
Anabolic steroids work for these
purposes because they increase protein synthesis, muscle mass and
strength. On the other side of the spectrum,
however, are the negative effects that overuse of anabolic steroids can
produce. These include increases in LDL cholesterol and
decreases in HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and liver damage.
Even with the great benefits anabolic
steroids have for medicinal purposes, they are controversial
because athletes have found benefits in using them for training
purposes. Thus, anabolic steroids have also had many effects
on competitive sports. Because of the potential health effects of
steroids, they are a controlled substance in the United
States and other countries.
Use of anabolic steroids may go back as far as ancient
Greece. Here it is believed that they used natural substances
that promoted both androgenic and anabolic effects. Modern
advances in anabolic
steroids, however, began in Germany when scientists in the 1930's were
looking for ways to increase the abilities of national athletes.
Up until the 1980's many people thought that the effects of a placebo
effect, but there were many inconsistencies in the studies.
In 1990, the United States placed AAS on the list of
controlled substances. It was around this time that many drug
companies in the United States stopped producing anabolic steroids (or
at least stopped marketing them in the United States). An
effect of this was an emergence of counterfeit anabolic steroids – some
of which were extremely harmful.
steroids are controlled in the United States and very
strictly regulated in other countries, they are readily available in
some countries (including Mexico and Germany). As with some
other illegal drugs, there is a strong movement in the United States to
remove the regulations on AAS.
AAS have both anabolic and androgenic effects.
How they balance out with each other depends on the specific make up of
the hormone in question. In general, anabolic effects include
the promotion metabolism and the building of tissues and androgenic
refers to the promotion of masculine effects. Ideally,
anabolic steroids should be able to have the most anabolic effects with
the fewest androgenic effects. The search is on for a
successful anabolic steroid that has no androgenic effects.
Finding the right balance is what is difficult.
As mentioned earlier, anabolic refers to how the steroid rebuilds or
increases body tissues. The effects of anabolic steroids vary
depending on its specific makeup. Generally speaking, what
happens is that the steroids bind to the androgen receptor, but they do
it at different degrees. The degree of this binding on the
androgen receptors determines the effect on the protein synthesis,
glygogenolysis, or transcription of the receptors which, in turn,
affects the type of growth of the tissue in question. In
addition to this building of tissues, anabolic steroids also reduce
catabolism. AAS do this by reducing recovery time through the
Some specific anabolic effects include a visible increase in muscle
mass, strength, appetite and bone structure. It can also
increase the stimulation of bone marrow and red blood cell production.
The androgenic effects (also referred to as virilizing effects) take on
a very different form. They include clitoral growth in
females and penis enlargement in male children. There can
also be an increase in body hair including pubic, facial, chest and
limb hair. Anabolic steroids can also increase the size of
the vocal cord which deepens the voice.
Androgenic effects also include the increase of the libido and the
suppression of sex hormones.
Anabolic steroids can be administered in oral, injectable or
transdermal forms. Oral forms are very convenient, but they
often need to be chemically altered so that it reaches the bloodstream
before the liver breaks it down. Oral anabolic steroids can
often be very hard on the liver and may even cause hepatotoxicity when
taken in high doses or for long periods of time. The
injectable anabolic steroids are often put right into the muscle tissue
and the transdermal forms come in creams, gels or patches that are
administered to the skin.
Anabolic steroids have been researched for medicinal purposes since the
middle of the twentieth century. The most popular medical use
for steroids is to help counter the effects of chronic wasting by
stimulating appetite and increasing muscle mass. However,
they have many different and successful uses. These include
• Bone Marrow Stimulation:
Anabolic steroids are now being replaced by synthetic proteins.
• Growth Stimulation: Since the
1980's use of anabolic steroids has been replaced with growth hormones
• Hormone Replacement Therapy: This helps
men with low levels of natural testosterone.
• Puberty Induction: While testosterone
is most widely used, anabolic steroids have been used to help boys who
have extreme delays in the onset of puberty.
Anabolic steroids have become very controversial because of the common
use by athletes who want to gain a competitive edge, particularly in
professional sports. Most of these sports now prohibit the
use of steroids by their athletes. Additionally, high school
athletes are using them as well to gain that competitive edge.
Whether the steroids are used for medicinal or other reasons, they can
produce many unwanted side effects. These include:
• high blood pressure
• increased total cholesterol levels
• increased acne
• hair loss and baldness
• prostate cancer
• liver damage (often caused by high
doses of oral administration)
• excessive growth of oral gums
There are specific side effects in males. These include
gynocomastia which is the appearance of female characteristics
including breast development, sexual disfunction and infertility and
shrinking of the testicles (testicular atrophy).
In females, the side effects include an increase in body hair, a
deepening of the voice, an enlarge clitoris and a decrease in menstrual
Adolescents can experience stunted growth, quickened maturation of the
bones, hypergonadism, increased body hair and precocious sexual
There are many ways to decrease the negative side
effects of using anabolic steroids and athletes and
bodybuilders often do what they can because of their increased use of
the substances. Since some anabolic steroids will convert to
estrogen, many people take estrogen inhibitors with their steroid
cycles. To reduce the effects of the suppression of natural
testosterone production in the body, many people also use a post-cycle
therapy to reduce the effects of a temporary reduction of testosterone
in the body. Additionally, it's also important to have
frequent blood work to keep an eye on possible liver damage, high blood
pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.
One common myth about the use
of anabolic steroids is that they will shrink the
penis. While this is untrue, there is a possibility of
testicular atrophy (the shrinking of the testicles) but they most often
return to normal after ceasing use of the steroids.
Another common misconception about anabolic steroids is that they are
fatal. It's true that extreme misuse of steroids can cause
death; the same is true for many drugs, however. Along the
same lines of this is that anabolic steroids are rumored to lead people
to commit suicide. It is true that lower levels of
testosterone can cause depression and coming off of a steroid cycle can
lower testosterone levels, the actual
link between steroids and suicide has not
Anabolic steroids are a controlled substance in the United
States. Because of this, many people who want to use them
need to purchase them from other countries. It's possible to
find anabolic steroids on the "black market". These steroids
are often counterfeit or else have been originally produced for
treatments in veterinary medicine (the biggest concern here is that
they may not have been kept as sterile as they should have).
Most AAS production in the United States no longer exists,
but many are produced in Eastern Europe – the largest source for
illegal steroid trade in the United States. They are often
distributed just like any other drug through dealers after being
smuggled into the United States. They are often sold at gyms
and competitions as well as through the mail.