How much testosterone is too much testosterone? Apparently, the human body doesn’t produce enough. It took the development of the man-made testosterone, anabolic-androgenic steroids, to satisfy bodybuilders who required more of it. Somehow, this led to competitions where orange people flex inhumane muscles to judges; and are glorified for it.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic substances that replicate the male hormone testosterone, and have similar effects to it on the human body. Its anabolic effect comes in the form of promoting growth of muscles and its andronic effect leads to the development of male sex characteristics. They are usually used to fasten delayed puberty in teenage males, as a solution to lost muscle mass after disease, and as a treatment for men diagnosed with low testosterone levels. The former uses of anabolic steroids are all taken under medical prescription; the issue, though, is its misuse.
As a means to increase physical self esteem, confidence and improve athletic performance, non-athlete males in their 20s to 30s, known to be the largest demographic of users, take anabolic steroids. It must be taken into account that those who take these substances are men who suffer from muscle dysmorphia, poor self esteem, elevated levels of depression, and eating disorders.
Exposing such a population to steroids risks the future mental health of these users. But, they are unaware of the consequences of taking these substances. How could they? Steroids are adored by the media - leading to the excessive misuse of the drugs and the health, psychological, and sexual functionality risks that come with it.
The misuse of anabolic steroids has been performed for decades, dating back to old Olympics before they were banned. A familiar case is that of a communist East Germany’s use of steroids in the 80s Olympics. Authorities forced East German athletes to use anabolic steroids to improve their performance and win gold medals for the country’s reputation, as a means to “prove” the superiority of communism and further spread it. Many of the athletes were unaware of the fact that the ‘blue pills’ their physicians or coaches were giving to them were steroids. It started to become noticeable when female athletes reported having increased masculine features, such as facial hair and deepened voices. The officials of this doping operation were condemned years later, but the athletes suffered from the long lasting effects of the drugs.
Steroids can be taken orally, through injectables, or as a gel or cream that is passed over the skin. In cases where people are misusing these substances, doses could be 10 to 100 times higher than the typically prescribed amount. Often taken in cycles, the misuse of anabolic steroids can be found in the form of “stacking,” “pyramiding,” or “plateauing.” “Stacking” is where users take, or “stack,” multiple different steroids at the same time. Often, they mix their types, such as orals and injectables. In more extreme cases, users might take supplements that are designed for veterinary use. “Stacking” is performed under the belief that multiple drugs will increase the steroid’s effects, though that hasn’t been proven scientifically. Whereas “pyramiding” refers to its usage in a cycle of 6 to 12 weeks. The dosage might increase gradually until it reaches its peak in the middle of the cycle, then decreases back to 0. This strategy is chosen when users believe it gives the body time to adjust to the drug. Perhaps the most dangerous form would be “plateauing,” where users overlap or substitute steroids to avoid the body from developing a tolerance to it.
The misuse of anabolic-androgenic steroids lead to multiple side effects that range from users’ health, psychology, to their sexual functionality. The most common health risks reported in users are those of cardiovascular and liver damage. Anabolic steroid users are more vulnerable to having blood clots, strokes, or heart attacks, due to the substances increasing the levels of low density lipoproteins, and decreasing levels of high density lipoproteins - which can risk atherosclerosis, where fatty acids are deposited in the blood and disrupt its flow, causing potential clots. Users are similarly at risk of developing liver tumours and peliosis hepatis, where the liver’s capillary bed and cavities are engorged.
Users of anabolic steroids are at higher risk of contracting infections such as HIV, AIDS or hepatitis due to their increased exposure to needles that are often shared for injections. The needles might not be properly sterilised, as well as users’ immune systems weakening from the substance use.
The health deformations that are caused by anabolic steroids are long lasting and irreversible. Users that are exposed to the substance are usually unaware of these effects, and fall victim to false propaganda and manipulation of media. The unsanitary and unsafe conditions at which these steroids are taken, through shared needles and dubious sellers, contribute to the danger it poses on users.
The use of anabolic steroids can lead to changes in behaviour, most commonly increased aggression, known as “roid rage;” which is basically teenage boy angst performed by a bulky man-monster. Outbursts of anger and physical aggression are elements of “roid rage,” and can lead to the user’s distress as well as endangering those around them. Other psychiatric effects that have been reported include mania and delusions. Users are also subject to dependence of anabolic steroids, and having negative responses to its withdrawal, such as depression, fatigue, and decreased appetite, strength and libido.
It must also be put into consideration that people who seek the use of anabolic steroids are generally those who suffer from body dysmorphia. This poses an entire new, and dangerous, angle to the situation. Body dysmorphic users are taking unhealthy supplements to increase their muscle mass, yet psychologically distort their self image. This could cause men and women who are already unusually muscly to continue the pursuit of anabolic steroids, leading to a possible overdose, not to mention the multiple health risks. Even under use of the substances, users will have a great deal of dissatisfaction with their bodies, worsening their self esteem and affecting their confidence to act on other social and professional areas of their lives. Instead of recommending steroids, coaches and fellow gym enthusiasts should advise the seeking of mental health professionals.
Other unwanted effects of these steroids, that could cause self esteem issues, include not developing your full body length in the case of teenagers, who grow to short stature. The formation of an oily skin and scalp, alongside severe acne, could also be of contribution.
The sexual dysfunctionalities range between men and women. Whilst testosterone is a male sex hormone found in abundance in men, it is found in much smaller quantities in females; causing the addition of these man-made hormones to create masculinising effects on women. In the male reproductive system, some side effects include decreased sperm production, which can lead to shrinking of the testicle size, enlarged breasts in the form of gynecomastia, that commonly happens in male teenagers during puberty, baldness, and the development of testicular cancer. The functionality of the sexual organs have greatly varied throughout users; some report an increased libido, others to a decreased one alongside erectile dysfunction. The use of anabolic steroids is, at its core, the addition of testosterone to the human body, almost like going through puberty again.
In women, the use of anabolic steroids may contribute to a deepened, manlier voice, decreased breast size, coarse skin, excessive body hair growth, especially in facial areas, baldness, and enlargement of the clitoris, which has been heavily reported yet no studies conducted on it. Gonadal dysfunction, such as loss of menstruation and fertility, might also be present in female steroid users. Women using anabolic steroids have generally reported feeling an increased libido; yet some anatomical changes to the clitoris and vagina were so severe that sexual intercourse was disrupted. This often leads to frustration between female users.
The masculinising effects of anabolic steroids are among some of the most unwanted side effects of it, especially to women. These changes may contribute to low self esteem and unrecognition of the self. Female users of these substances have often reported feelings of shame in relation to the development of masculine features, which disturbs social and sexual aspects of their lives. Due to the gonadal dysfunctions anabolic steroids may cause, which female users are often unaware of, they have a greater chance of becoming infertile and developing reproductive issues. Not only is it unfair for a person to be stripped away of their right to reproduce, it is dangerous for the woman herself to be a victim of these reproductive dysfunctions. The sexual dysfunctionalities imposed by the use of steroids is a major contributor to its overall negative effects on the human body.
Vulnerable people suffering from body dysmorphia and mental health issues are easily exposed to impulsively taking anabolic steroids, often unaware of its devastating effects. It leads to a lifetime of dissatisfaction, health issues, and sexual and social dysfunctions. The glorification of anabolic steroid users in bodybuilding competitions must be stopped if these people are to be protected. The media should do better than to praise inhumane body standards and give viewers a means to destroy their own, only to ultimately never meet it; yet this is exactly what it has been doing since its beginning.