Steroid Use and the UFC: Anabolic Steroid Side Effects-Part 1

The action of testosterone can be in ways both beneficial and detrimental to the body. On the plus side, this hormone has a direct impact on the growth of muscle tissues, the production of red blood cells and overall well being of the organism. But it may also negatively affect the production of skin oils, growth of body, facial and scalp hair, and the level of both “good” and “bad” cholesterol in the body (among other things). In fact, men have a shorter average life span than women, which is believed to be largely due to the cardiovascular defects that this hormone may help bring about. Testosterone will also naturally convert to estrogen in the male body, a hormone with its own unique set of effects. As we have discussed earlier, raising the level of estrogen in men can increase the tendency to notice water retention, fat accumulation, and will often cause the development of female tissues in the breast [gynecomastia]. Clearly we see that most of the “bad” side effects from steroids are simply those actions of testosterone that we are not looking for when taking a steroid. Raising the level of testosterone in the body will simply enhance both its good and bad properties, but for the most part we are not having “toxic° reactions to these drugs. A notable exception to this is the possibility of liver damage, which is a worry isolated to the use of c17-alpha alkylated oral steroids. Unless the athlete is taking anabolic/androgenic steroids abusively for a very long duration, side effects rarely amount to little more than a nuisance. One could actually make a case that periodic steroid use might even be a healthy practice, provided some common sense is paid to health checkups, drug choice, dosage and off-time.  This position is, of course, very difficult to publicly justify, with steroid use being so deeply stigmatized. Since this can be a very lengthy discussion, we will save the full health, moral and legal arguments for another time. For now I would like to run down the list of popularly discussed side effects, and include any current treatment/avoidance advice where possible.

Acne

Rampant acne is one of the more obvious indicators of steroid use. As you know, teenage boys generally endure periods of irritating acne as their testosterone levels begin to peak.  This generally subsides with age, but when taking anabolic/androgenic steroids, an adult will commonly be confronted with this same problem. This is because the sebaceous glands, which secrete oils in the skin, are stimulated by androgens. Increasing the level of such hormones in the skin may therefore enhance the output of oils, often causing acne to develop on the back, shoulders, and face. The use of strongly androgenic steroids in particular can be very troublesome, in some instances resulting in very unsightly blemishes all over the skin. To treat acne, the athlete has a number of options. The most obvious, of course, is to be very diligent with washing and topical treatments, so as to remove much of the dirt and oil before the pores become clogged. If this proves insufficient, the prescription acne drug Accutaine might be a good option. This is a very effective medication that acts on the sebaceous glands, reducing the level of oil secreted. The athlete could also take the ancillary drug Proscar®/Propecia® [finasteride] during steroid treatment, which reduces the conversion of testosterone into DHT, lowering the tendency for androgenic side effects with this hormone. It is of note however that this drug is more effective at warding off hair loss than acne, as it more specifically effects DHT conversion in the prostate and hair follicles. It is also important to note that testosterone is the only steroid that really converts to dihydrotestosterone, and only a few others actually convert to more potent steroids via the 5a-reductase enzyme at all. Many steroids are also potent androgens in their own right, such as Anadrol 50® and Dianabol for example. As such, they can exert strong androgenic activity in target tissues without 5a-reduction to a more potent compound, which makes Propecia® useless. Of course, one can also simply take those steroids [anabolics] that are less androgenic. For sensitive individuals attempting to build mass, nandrolone would therefore be a much better option than testosterone.

Aggression

Aggressive behaviour can be one of the scarier sides to steroid use. Men are typically more aggressive than women because of testosterone, and likewise the use of steroids [especially androgens] can increase a person’s aggressive tendency. In some instances this can be a benefit, helping the athlete hit the weights more intensely or perform better in a competition. Many professional power lifters and bodybuilders take a particular liking to this effect. But on the other hand there is nothing more unsettling than a grown man, bloated with muscle mass, who cannot control his temper. A steroid user who displays an uncontrollable rage is clearly a danger to himself and others. If an athlete is finding himself getting agitated at minor things during a steroid cycle, he should certainly find a means to keep this from getting out of hand. Remembering to take a couple of deep breaths at such times can be very helpful. If such attempts prove ineffective, the offending steroids should be discontinued. The bottom line is that if you lack the maturity and self control to keep your anger in check, you should not be using steroids.

Anaphylactic Shock

Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction to the presence of a foreign protein in the body. It most commonly occurs when an individual has an allergy to things like a specific medication (such as penicillin), insect bites, industrial/household chemicals, foods (commonly nuts, shellfish, fruits) and food additives/preservatives (particularly sulfur). With this sometimes-fatal disorder, the smooth muscles are stimulated to contract, which may restrict a person’s breathing. Symptoms include wheezing, swelling, rash or hives, fever, a notable drop in blood pressure, dizziness, unconsciousness, convulsions or death. This reaction is not really seen with hormonal products like anabolic/androgenic steroids, but this may change with the rampant manufacture of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Being that there are no quality controls for black market producers, toxins might indeed find their way into some preparations (particularly injectable compounds). My only advice would be to make every attempt to use only legitimately produced drug products, preferably of First World origin. When anaphylactic shock occurs, it is most commonly treated with an injection of epinephrine. Individuals very sensitive to certain insect bites are familiar with this procedure, many of whom keep an allergy kit (for the self administration of epinephrine) close at hand.

Birth Defects

Anabolic/androgenic steroids can have a very pronounced impact on the development of an unborn fetus. Adrenal Genital Syndrome in particular is a very disturbing occurrence in which a female fetus can develop male-like reproductive organs. Women who are, or plan to become pregnant soon, should never consider the use of anabolic steroids. It would also be the best advice to stay away from these drugs completely for a number of months prior to attempting the conception of a child, so as to ensure the mother has a normal hormonal chemistry. Although anabolic/androgenic steroids can reduce sperm count and male fertility, they are not linked to birth defects when taken by someone fathering a child.

Blood Clotting Changes

The use of anabolic/androgenic steroids is shown to increase prothrombin time, or the duration it will take for a blood clot to form. This basically means that while an individual is taking steroids, he/she may notice that it takes slightly longer than usual for a small cut or nosebleed to stop seeping blood. During the course of a normal day this is hardly cause for alarm, but it can lead to more serious trouble if a severe accident occurred, or an unexpected surgery was needed. Realistically the changes in clotting time are not extremely dramatic, so athletes are usually only concerned with this side effect if planning for a surgery. The clotting changes brought about by anabolic steroids are amplified with the use of medications like Aspirin, Tylenol and especially anticoagulants, so your doctor should be informed of their use (steroids) if undergoing any notable treatment with these types of drugs.

Cancer

Although it is a popular belief that steroids can give you cancer, this is actually a very rare phenomenon. Since anabolic/androgenic steroids are synthetic versions of a natural hormone that your body can metabolize quite easily, they usually place a very low level of stress on the organs. In fact, many steroidal compounds are safe to administer to individuals with a diagnosed liver condition, with little adverse effect. The only real exception to this is with the use of C17 alpha alkylated compounds, which, due to their chemical alteration, are somewhat liver toxic. In a small number of cases (primarily with Anadrol 50®) this toxicity has lead to severe liver damage and subsequently cancer. But we are speaking of a statistically insignificant number in the face millions of athletes who use steroids. These cases also tended to be very ill patients, not athletes, who were using extremely large dosages for prolonged periods of time. Steroid opponents will sometimes point out the additional possibility of developing Wilms Tumor from steroid abuse, which is a very serious form of kidney cancer. Such cases are so rare however, that no direct link between anabolic/androgenic steroid use and this disease has been conclusively established. Provided the athlete is not overly abusing methylated oral substances, and is visiting a doctor during heavier cycles, cancer should not be much of a concern.

Reported by Naveen Kumar

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