Anabolic steroids have gained a reputation for facilitating muscle building and sports performance, with notable use by bodybuilders and athletes. Through a series of complex changes in body chemistry, anabolic steroids can lead to increased physical strength in the short term.
However, over time, steroids serve to initiate genetic changes, disrupt natural cell production processes and enable the body to bypass its naturally protective muscular ranges.
The Effects of Steroids on the Body
Steroids are introduced to the body by oral ingestion in pill form or through intravenous use. When steroids are ingested, the drugs interact with androgen receptors – proteins that reside in the cytoplasm of cells.
As steroids bind to these sites, they become able to access the central portion of the cell, known as the nucleus. This cellular process – called translocation – allows the drug to initiate changes within the cell, particularly in the way that genes express themselves, leading to alterations in the natural cell growth process.
Once inside the cell nucleus, steroids can even affect a person’s DNA. Two main effects take place – first, the recoding of cells’ genetic sequences and secondly, the propagation of this effect through a course of action called transcription. The DNA becomes altered, and the new genetic information is carried back to the cytoplasm through cell messengers known as mRNA. Once this process has become complete, subunits of the cells known as organelles initiate the development of new proteins.
Steroids ultimately are then able to have two major effects on the body. Protein production becomes increased, allowing for fast building of muscle, while the body’s natural stress hormone production becomes inhibited. In addition to prevention of fat accumulation, the body becomes more quickly able to recover after exertion. Muscles no longer need as much time in between heavy and stressful exercise in order to recover, and the ratio of muscle-to-fat within the body also increases. Additionally, as the sex hormone testosterone increases, protein receptors become affected, allowing for an increase in muscle.
Side Effects of Steroid Addiction
Despite their muscle-building effects, with continued use, steroids can quickly lead to drug addiction, taking an incredible toll on the body. One of the foremost side effects of steroid addiction is cardiovascular risk, including conditions such as heart attack, hypertension and arteriosclerosis – the result of lipoprotein interference and consequently altered good and bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Clogged arteries can also lead to an increased risk of stroke and fatal blood clots in steroid users.
Other health consequences of untreated steroid use include liver problems, including liver cancer and jaundice, bone alterations (particularly among youth) and hair loss. Steroid use is notorious for its effects on the reproductive system, leading women to experience menstrual cessation, infertility and lowered voice tone while men risk sex organ shrinkage, lowered sperm count and gynecomastia (the male development of breasts). Psychological effects (collectively referred to as “roid rage”) can also set in, spanning from depression and paranoia to delusional thinking and severe, explosive mood swings.