Common misconceptions and myths about anabolic steroids
Now that we are familiar with how anabolic steroids interact with our body, causing different effects and side effects, we can cover some of the often-misunderstood facts about AS.
Origin of the myths around steroids
Usually, there are two types of opinions on steroids
- “It’s totally safe, bro, you can get big with no significant side effects.”
- “Steroids are dangerous and you must never rely on them, take a look at David of Michelangelo, do you think the model needed steroids?”
Well, in our opinion both points are valid to some extent. However, the discussions between people who approve of steroids, and those who don’t, cause massive misconceptions.
We will go through the opinions of groups (1) and (2), and clear out the flaws in their logic.
(2) All steroids are extremely dangerous for your health
This is probably one of the most common misconceptions around steroids.
It’s true that irrational use of some substances may lead to heavy liver damage as well as disruptions in the endocrine and cardio-vascular system. However, those are the exact substances that were not created for and tested on humans.
As we mentioned in Part One of our series on anabolic steroids, some of the substances used might even be for veterinary purposes. They are also hard to find, very expensive and mainly used by top level athletes, that are under the supervision of a professional.
(1) There are steroids that are completely safe
This is another widespread myth, that is not really correct too, since there is no safe medication.
There are many steroid based substances that have gone through medical tests and researches numerous times. There are also steroids that are used in sports so often, that there’s complete knowledge of their effects and side effects.
However, even the “lightest” steroids have side effects (They might be minor, but there are still side effects), when taken in doses, required for sport results, and we can tell you that those doses are far from the “Medication prescription doses”.
(2) Steroids lead to impotency
Impotency is a rare side effect of steroids, and is mainly caused by irrational use of PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs).
Continuous, long term use of high doses of AS can certainly lead to a complete spermatogenesis suppression, however, studies have shown that this process is completely reversible through an adequate post cycle therapy.
Usually, a safe, long-term contraceptive would be 200 mg of testosterone enanthate, weekly.
There are SOME cases of irreversible impotency with the use of AS, but the doses and duration of the cycles that lead to this condition, were INHUMAN – 3 grams/week for months or even years, with no adequate post cycle therapy.
Post cycle therapy (PCT)
Let’s talk about the post-steroid cycle intervention and why it is required.
How does our body react to outer sources of sex hormones? Does it hinder the natural processes and what do steroids interact with, that may be vital for our endocrine system?
How do anabolic steroids affect natural testosterone production?
As we cleared out, even small doses of AS, leading to an increase in sport results, can cause the body to stop producing its own testosterone. This is simply because it doesn’t need to, due to the outer source of testosterone.
The natural testosterone production processes are regulated by the so-called “hypothalamus-hypophysis-testis”. The signal for any kind of sex hormone synthesis is given by the hypothalamus, via the gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone activates the front part of the hypophysis, and so it synthesizes a luteinizing hormone, as well as a follicle stimulating hormone.
The luteinizing hormone stimulates the Leydig cells in the testicles, which leads to them producing more testosterone. On the other side, the follicle stimulating hormone stimulates the spermatogenesis.
Suppressing natural testosterone secretion can be caused by the anabolic steroids’ intervention with any of these hormones. The worst-case scenario is when AS hinders the hypothalamus- This usually happens during extended cycles with high doses of AS.
If that happens, another signal hormone from an outer source is required- chorionic gonadotropin/choriogonadotropin.
It’s important to know that this hormone doesn’t stimulate the hypothalamus or the hypophysis, but rather imitates the effect of the luteinizing hormone. At the same time, it also suppresses the body’s natural gonadorelin / luteinizing hormone production, which is why it’s intake is usually done during the cycle itself, in small doses. It can also be used in the PCT, after a prolonged, high-dose cycle, it’s use in the PCT however, is relatively short.
However, if the given trainee hasn’t gone to those extremes, it would be enough to slightly suppress the estrogens, in order to get your natural hormone production back on track. Some of the substances that can be used to achieve that are selective modulators of the estrogen receptors- Tamoxifen, letrozole, exemestane, formestane.
The simultaneous use of those substances however, requires knowledge about the interactions between their active ingredients.
Anabolic steroids and cortisol
So far so good- We learned a bit about anabolic steroids’ effect on testosterone production. However, hormone secretion is not the only thing suppressed by steroids.
AS can also hinder cortisol production. Also, after a steroid cycle, when the concentration of steroids in the blood is lowered, the effect and concentration of cortisol suddenly jump, which can lead to a couple of unpleasant side effects like muscle breakdown, immunity suppression, higher risk of injury, faster exhaustion.
This can be countered with some substances, that also have side effects and are not recommended for long term use. These substances are based on amino glutethimide-an aromatase inhibitor and suppressor of the adrenal cortisol secretion, that also keeps the cholesterol from turning into 5-pregnelone, which is a precursor of the sex hormones in the human body. Following that information, we should know that the use of this substance must be carefully considered.
Anabolic steroids’ effect on progesterone
The third hormone we should take in account, when considering our cycle and/or PCT, is the progesterone.
As we mentioned, some AS have strong progestogenic activity, which is useful to some extent, but also carries its side effects, like gynecomastia and water retention. If you’re using such substances, it’s recommended that you also include cabergoline and bromocriptine based medication in your cycle.
Important note: These substances, just like any other medication have their side effects. It’s important to know your INDIVIDUAL sensitivity and tolerance- There are cases of increased progesterone levels after a SINGLE testosterone injection, so, know your body first and don’t go over the top with the substances and their dosages!
We mentioned some of the medications used during the PCT, however, if you want to know the EXACT approach that YOU need after your cycle, it would be best to do a test on the levels of the luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormone, as well as the estradiol, cortisol and prolactin.
The results of the tests, should be enough for your doctor to tell you what kind of therapy you would need after the steroid cycle.
(1) When you’re on a cycle, you’re unbreakable- Your immune system is so strong, you can’t get sick. Your joints and ligaments are untouchable, injury can’t happen!
Well…. Not really, even though anabolic steroids have a pleasant effect on the body’s recovery.
It also depends on the type of AS used. Some AS like nandrolone, oxymetholone and trenbolone can amplify cell immunity, and all AS boost humoral immunity (And no, that doesn’t mean you won’t be offended by jokes).
Some nandrolone and testosterone based AS can also have a positive effect upon inflammation processes in the organism. Boldenone, nandrolone and oxandrolone increase the collagen synthesis, which is a premise for quicker micro-injury recovery.
So, the conclusion is- Yes, steroids can have a positive effect upon injury recovery, but they certainly won’t make you unbreakable.
We would also mention that ligaments, joints and connective tissues have a slower adaptation to quick increases in strength (Which is one of the effects of AS), compared to muscle fibers. This means that sudden, quick increases in strength capabilities, through AS, can lead to a serious injury.
Anabolic steroids and their effect on sport results
(2) You can achieve the same results naturally
Well, theoretically speaking, there are numbers of people who are extremely gifted with their genetic potential- Those are the exact people that can naturally reach feats of strength and muscularity, that would SCREAM ‘steroids’.
However, none of those people will EVER reach the same results as a professional, competitive weightlifter, athlete, powerlifter, but will rather get close to their results in the long term. Also, it won’t happen in the same time frame as it would if AS were used- The difference will be major.
It’s not possible for everyone to even get close to top level performance, due to the fact there are only a couple of genetically gifted individuals, per 1 million people.
(1) Anabolic steroids are a must- You can’t get big and strong without them.
If we take a look at the most common idea of a “Big and strong” physique (Let’s say- 80 kg at 10% bodyfat with a 140kg squat, 180 kg deadlift and 130 kg bench), this statement would be completely false!
Of course, you can’t naturally get big and lean enough to be considered competitive in the top-tier, elite bodybuilding competitions, but you can certainly achieve a good looking, strong and functional physique, without using steroids.
(2) Steroids will ruin your heart and liver!
As those are vital organs in the human body, we’ll cover them thoroughly.
If we have to be very generic, ‘ruining the liver’ through the use of AS is a very exaggerated statement.
Theoretically, 200 grams of alcohol per day, load our liver way more than the normal daily intake, required to build muscle mass, of some oral steroids (17-alkylated anabolic steroids).
Researches on oral steroids show that most of them CAN have a bad effect on your liver, but are not really as hepatotoxic as steroid naysayers say they are.
According to data from DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network), only 0.4% of the liver angiosarcoma cases are caused by AS intake.
There’s almost an identical case for liver adenoma, caused by AS, and that’s with a patient that took oxymetholone for 6 years straight, as anemia treatment.
We can certainly say that such one-time cases, can lead to very bad reputation of steroids.
Even though AS have little side effects upon the liver, if used adequately, we’ll give you some practical guidelines that will help anyone who’s willing to take oral steroids.
Liver damage symptoms
All liver diseases can be split into two groups- Inflammation diseases (Hepatitis) and tissue changes (Hepatosis).
Below is a list of the symptoms of these diseases.
- Pain in the right part beneath your ribs. The liver itself does not have pain receptors, but when it increases in volume, the connective tissue around it stretches out, which gives pain signals.
- Yellow skin, broken capillaries.
- Weakness, quick exhaustion, insomnia
- Change of excrement color. Urine may get darker, while excrements get lighter or completely black
- Ascites and leg swelling
17-Alkylated anabolic steroids load the liver, because they have very high resistance, meaning, they have to pass through the liver multiple times to be metabolized, leading to a more intense work of that organ, compared to its usual working intensity.
An important note here would be the role of strength workouts, that additionally load that organ. This can cause changes in the results of blood tests, leading to change in the levels of ALT and AST. This means that the most rational thing to do while taking a test that will determine whether or not you have liver issues, is checking the levels of CGT (Gamaglutamil Transpeptidasa) and the alcal phosphatase, as well as the bilirubin.
This is because of the existing possibility of liver issues (after AS use), caused by the cholestasis – Suppression of the bile juice drainage through the bile paths to the intestines, meaning, the intense work of the organ might not be the only reason for the damage.
This would also apply to the hepatoprotecting medications, that are in a big group of active ingredients:
- Flavonoids- Substances that are widely distributed and contain the famous hepatoprotector These substances act as membrane protection, antioxidants and also improve the metabolism.
- Essential phospholipids. Their effect is directly pointed at recovering damaged cell membranes.
- Animal organ substances- Medicines that were gained through processing of animal liver cells. They act via the metabolites gained during the degradation of the hepatocytes in their composition, and lead to better liver function of the patient
- Plant based flavinoids (artichokes and plants used in traditional Indian medicine) Cynarine is the main active ingredient in the artichoke based substances. They improve fat metabolism and increase the synthesis of certain enzymes.
- Ademetionine – This is one of the most powerful means of liver recovery. It takes place in all transmetilation reactions, as a donor of methyl groups, and a precursor of physiological sulfhydryl compounds in the organism. It also regulates the permeability of the liver cell membranes.
- l-ornithine l-aspartate – It’s effect is achieved through the amino acids ornithine and aspartate, upon the two most important biochemical paths, that detoxify the ammonia- Urea and glutamine synthesis that are done in the liver. It’s used in cirrhosis, hepatitis, as well as fat degeneration
As a conclusion to this part of the article, that involved many complex terms, we can simply say you should be careful with the intake of ANY medication, if you don’t want to have any serious side effects- Be it liver or cardio-vascular damage.
Effect of AS on the cardio-vascular system
When it comes to the effect of AS upon the cardio vascular system, it’s widely accepted that the risk of a heart attack increases significantly during the use of anabolic steroids.
This is mainly due to the change in the lipid profile and increase in blood pressure, as well as the hypertrophy of the heart (If you don’t know yet- Yes, the heart is a muscle that can increase in size too!)
In fact, AS do change the lipid profile, but at the same time, as high-density cholesterol levels go down, low density cholesterol levels and triglycerides are also lowered.
As to the danger of left-chamber hypertrophy- it exists for everyone that does strength, explosive or aerobic workouts. This hypertrophy is not pathological, but is caused by the increased needs of the organism.
The states of arrhythmia are quite dangerous, but they are rarely observed during high intensity/density workouts, or individuals that are predisposed to such conditions. It is extremely dangerous during combination of AS and clenbuterol without the supervision of a doctor.
Increase in blood pressure is a fact with all AS that hold water in the organism just like the fact that they hinder natural testosterone production.
(1), (2) You will lose all your gains post cycle
This is a popular statement that you may hear from both groups of people. (Those who support and those who don’t’ support the use of AS)
In fact, that’s completely possible, but it only happens under at least 2 of the following conditions:
- If you stop working out after your AS cycle
- If you f!@# up your diet after your AS cycle
- If you’ve taken substances that cause water retention inside the muscle. After stopping their intake, all that water is flushed out- however that’s not muscle loss
- The cycle was long, and the PCT was bad- There was no adequate recovery of the organism
In this article, we discussed some of the most common misconceptions around steroids.
We hope you will consider this article before taking in any types of steroids, for the sole purpose of building some muscle/strength!
Our advice would be to NOT take any PEDs, unless you have serious competitive goals and there’s no other option, and even if you do- Ask your doctor first!
In the last two articles on anabolic steroids, we will be discussing underground steroids production and the risks of using such unapproved, suspicious substances.