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Medical How bad are steroids for you?

  1. Jul 21, 2009 #1
    Awhile back I watched a documentary on the use of steroids in America called Bigger, Stronger, Faster. It seemed to look at steroids not from the angle of a horrid poison no American would touch with a 20 foot pole, but from the angle that it's simply a drug to treat patients with muscle atrophy and enhance performance for athletes which, like any drug, has possible side effects. Then I came upon http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20050316/why-steroids-are-bad-for-you" [Broken]. I suppose the scariest part of the article was supposed to be the symptoms (here are the lower ones suffered by both men and women):

    * Get acne
    * Have an oily scalp and skin
    * Get yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
    * Become bald
    * Have tendon rupture
    * Have heart attacks
    * Have an enlarged heart
    * Develop significant risk of liver disease and liver cancer
    * Have high levels of "bad" cholesterol
    * Have mood swings
    * Fly into rages
    * Suffer delusions

    These don't sound very appealing to me -- but if you listen to the quick, low voice at the end of a television commercials promoting a new drug, or do research on the internet, you will find symptoms just as or much more appalling for virtually all drugs: and they're prescribed to millions of people! For instance, here are the possible symptoms for taking too much Vitamin C:

    * Severe back pain
    * Jaundice
    * Itchy skin (prurutis)
    * Tender mass in left upper abdomen (splenomegaly)
    * Fever
    * Abdominal pain
    * Dizziness
    * Vomiting
    * Nausea
    * Headache
    * Facial flushing
    * Dental cavities (caries)
    * Decreased urine output

    So what gives? Why are steroids looked upon as being so spine-curlingly horrible? Obviously if they have such a bad reputation I must be missing something vital, so hopefully someone here can set me straight. Thanks!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 21, 2009 #2


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    Re: How bad are steriods for you?

    Note that when used to treat an injury or disease, the treatment doesn't last long, so the long-term side effects don't have time to develop. But an athlete might use it for years.
  4. Jul 21, 2009 #3
    Taking steroids gives an athlete an advantage that other athletes will not have unless they too take steroids. I for one, do not think it a good idea to require all athletes to endanger themselves in order to compete.

    The only logical thing to do is bar such substances as steroids as a legitimate way of gaining the competitive edge.

    I think the stigma is mostly against cheating. Not against steroid use.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2009
  5. Jul 22, 2009 #4
    Re: How bad are steriods for you?

    Aren't steroids just testosterone? Aren't old men given testosterone just like old woman are given estrogen? Maybe, more at issue is the quantity of the drug that athletes take.
  6. Jul 22, 2009 #5
    are you talking about anabolic steroids or just steroids in general?
  7. Jul 22, 2009 #6


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    Re: How bad are steriods for you?

    They stimulate testosterone production.
    I've never heard of that. In any case, you seem to be implying that if one is ok, the other would be to. What you are missing is that one is the cause and the other is the solution. Estrogen replacement is done to counter a degredation in the body's ability to produce estrogen. Steroids cause artificially elevated testosterone levels that cause the body to lose the ability to produce testosterone.

    And that's in addition to the effects of the too-high testosterone levels themselves. One example, too high elevated levels of testosterone also result in production of estrogen, which leads to female development in males.
    Yes - any quantity above zero results in an improper level of testosterone and estrogen. And, of course, the larger the does, the larger the deviation from normal and the larger the problems.

    The wiki on steroids talks about the side effects: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabolic_steroid#Adverse_effects

    Of particular concern to developing athletes is this one:
    In other words, one of the worst times to mess with your body's ability to produce testosterone naturally is exactly during the time when an athlete is seeking the most development of athletic capability. Those side effects are permanent damage.
  8. Jul 23, 2009 #7


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    Steroids are an entire category of molecules that are synthesized from the precursor, cholesterol, and have a common ring structure...the side chains are what varies. They can be either naturally produced in the body (i.e., 17-beta-estradiol, estrione, testosterone, progesterone, cortisol) and have normal body functions in reproduction, growth, stress responses, maintaining bone density, cardiovascular health, etc. In these naturally occurring amounts, they are not harmful, but normal and beneficial.

    They can also be used therapeutically, either as the natural form of the steroid hormone, or synthetic forms, and again, their doses are carefully regulated to be reasonably safe. Examples would be birth control pills, cortisone shots or pills to treat inflammation from an injury or allergic reaction, testosterone treatments for older men to help prevent muscle wasting when their own testosterone production has declined, and so on. I said reasonably safe, because even these therapeutic uses have risks of side effects including formation of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, which is life threatening), other cardiovascular risks such as myocardial infarction or stroke, and cancers (especially of the reproductive organs...breast, uterine, ovarian, prostatic) as the most common.

    When we start talking about illegal steroid abuse, not only are there issues of using the steroids available for therapeutic use in doses and durations that increase those risk factors already known for the therapeutic uses, but there are a host of other risk factors included. The best-known example is that abuse of testosterone and other similar androgens at high doses can lead to male infertility. This is because testosterone's normal production is local in the testis, but sperm production, and maintaining testicular function in general, requires support from other hormones produced elsewhere in the body (mainly the pituitary...LH and FSH). Because of the body's normal feedback mechanisms, when those high doses of testosterone reach the brain and pituitary, they tell those organs to shut down sex hormone production (and if really high, other types of hormones can get shut down too at these non-physiological concentrations where you can get binding of hormones to the wrong receptors).

    The other issue with illegal steroid use is there are a lot of synthetic steroids being produced for that "black market" that are not even approved for clinical use. They are being manufactured specifically to avoid detection in blood and urine tests administered to athletes. If you use those, you're truly playing Russian roulette with your health. Even those of us working in the fields of endocrinology or reproductive biology end up behind the illicit manufacturers in finding out what these newer synthetic steroids do...or even finding out what they are. These aren't just the newest pharmaceutical that is in clinical trials, or has gotten through clinical trials, but hasn't gotten a stamp of approval from the FDA...these are drugs that have not been manufactured in any legitimate lab and have no safety information about them.

    For the steroid user, there are also risks not directly related to the steroid, but to the manner in which it is administered. For example, risk of infection at an injection site from using dirty needles or not using a properly sterilized solution.

    There are also risks to the general public and environment, which often don't come up in these types of discussions. It's even an issue with the therapeutic use of steroids (and other drugs), not just illegal use. There are bioactive metabolites of these steroids that get excreted through urine or feces, and are not removed in the sewage treatment process. There is increasing contamination of our water supplies with pharmaceutical products and bioactive metabolites. The higher the doses being used, the more gets excreted and ultimately winds up in our water supplies.
  9. Oct 19, 2009 #8
    I know this thread is a bit old, but this is a topic near and dear to me. Some years ago, my stepdaughter was suffering from severe migraines. She was treated by a respected MD who began treating each presented episode with steroid injections, I believe in her neck. It was possibly cortisone, but I'm not certain. The migraines were frequent, and he continued the injections, because they did provide relief. I'm not sure how many she got in all, but quite a few.

    Here are the results: As a (proven) result of the treatments, she lost all bone tissue in both hips and both shoulders from avascular necritis (tissue death due to loss of blood flow). She has had all four joints replaced. One hip became infected with a resistant bug and the prosthesis was removed and can never be opened again. The other hip is deteriorating and will have to be replaced again. The shoulders will both have to replaced a second time soon.

    As if all that weren't enough, she developed severe acne, gained a lot of weight, suffers from depression (who wouldn't) and lost any ability to work. She was a vibrant, pretty, smart, active college graduate woman in her 20's with a promising career. Now you wouldn't recognize her.

    Oh, and she still has the migraines.

    The doctor lost his license.
  10. Oct 19, 2009 #9
    They're bad.
  11. Oct 19, 2009 #10


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    That's a truly horrifying story...I'm so sorry for you, your family, and mostly for your step daughter. I hope the best for you.

    I know that hormonal changes have a big effect on migraines, but I've never heard of steroids as a treatment.
  12. Oct 20, 2009 #11
    yeah, some of those are going to happen, depending on what you're taking. the acne often shows up as "bacne" on the traps/shoulders (abusers often get excessive growth in the trapezius, too). from what i've read, some of the acne may be from DHT, which is also what will cause premature baldness in some.

    oral steroids are bad for the liver and cause the jaundice.

    tendon ruptures can happen when muscular growth and strength far exceed the growth of tendons. there's a video or two out there of guys deadlifting mixed grip and having a biceps tendon pull right off the bone. sometimes guys get pretty nasty muscle tears, too, that's always fun to watch.

    some of the mood swings may be from aromatization of androgens into estrogens. the http://www.ceri.com/q_v7n2q3.htm" [Broken] will show you some of the pathways, but don't get the idea from that graph that DHEA will make you huge. chances are that it will just make you a moody little girl. anyway, it's been tried and doesn't work.

    most young guys don't need anabolic steroids anyway, they're just lazy/impatient. male testosterone peaks in about the mid 20s. but if you're suffering from ED you might want to go see an endocrinologist and get some tests run.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  13. Oct 29, 2009 #12
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/science/2009/08/090805_discovery_050809.shtml" [Broken]

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/science/2009/08/090812_discovery_120809.shtml" [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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