steroid users are not cheats!
by Paul Cribb, B.H.Sci HMS
AST Director of Research
Now days the public will almost always associate the words “anabolic steroids” with elite athletes, sensational drug scandals and cheating.
However, according to a recent report involving the largest sample group to date; the majority of (anabolic) steroid users are not athletes. These people do not aspire to win world titles or Olympic gold medals. They don’t even compete in organized competition.
According to this scientific survey, published last month in a leading sports science journal, the typical anabolic steroid user is around 30 years old, well-educated, and earning an above-average income in a white-collar occupation.
This report concluded that the majority of non-medical anabolic steroid users are just regular people that want to build muscle, get lean and improve their physical attractiveness.
Other significant but less highly ranked factors included increased confidence, improved mood and attraction of sexual partners.
The authors suggest that steroid users don’t fall into the same category as abusers of narcotics and other illicit drugs – steroid users are “different”.
According to the report, most steroid users follow carefully planned drug regimens in conjunction with a healthy diet, ancillary drugs and exercise. With these people, everything is strategically planned to “maximize benefits and minimize harm” - behavior that is directly opposite to the spontaneous and haphazard approach seen in abusers of psychotropic drugs.
I agree, most bodybuilders that use anabolic steroids hardly exhibit the drug-hooked, out-of-control “junkie” behavioral patterns the public usually associates with drug abuse and addiction. (However, the lifestyle of your typical aspiring IFBB Pro comes pretty darn close!)
However, I’m not sure where the researchers found such a large group of virtuous souls to complete this survey.
I’ve worked with hundreds of bodybuilders over the years. Many have used drugs. Lots of drugs, and I could count on one hand the amount that took a single step to “minimize harm,” let alone any “strategic planning”. Heck, I couldn’t get most of them to go for a blood test.
Just for a moment, let’s just give the researchers the benefit of doubt that they managed to flesh out such a substantial number of highly-organized, health-conscious bodybuilders among the zoo of people that regularly frequent the gym.
After reading the conclusions of this report you’d almost be forgiven for thinking that taking the juice to get big was a benign and almost virtuous endeavor.
I’m neither pro or anti anabolic steroids - I believe any individual should be allowed to put anything they want into their body so long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. Everyone should be allowed to be a free individual to make their own choices.
Setting the obvious legality issues aside for one moment, I still don't believe that non-medical anabolic steroid use (by healthy people) is a "cool" thing to do. It's not even an “okay" thing to do.
I’ll explain why.
Using steroids won’t kill you. Heck, it probably won’t even make you sick. However, relying on the juice to build your muscle is not as benign as the dickhead writers in the muscle mags try to make you believe.
Firstly, many aspects of muscle metabolism and growth are controlled by the classic steroid-hormone binding mechanism. Both anabolic and catabolic hormones (the hormones that breakdown muscle tissue) exert their effects by binding to a cell membrane-receptor. Once attached, they activate a receptor complex so that the hormone can enter the nucleus and bind specific response elements on DNA to act directly at the genetic level. This is how all hormones both natural and artificial alter the production (transcription and subsequent translation) of specific proteins in cells. This is what ultimately influences results from exercise.
People that use anabolic steroids must use higher doses than physiological (normal) levels. That’s what ensures the benefit. However, these doses only stimulate growth via the previously mentioned process, for a short period of time. After this, the artificially introduced anabolic steroid exerts its effects mostly by attaching to (and blocking) cortisol receptors.
Even after just a few short cycles, muscles and other tissues express more and more cortisol receptors in an effort to keep a natural balance.
Higher and higher doses are required each steroid cycle just to provide the same anabolic effect.
When a person stops using anabolic steroids, their muscles contain an abnormally high level of cortisol receptors. There is no way around this.
Therefore, along with the suppression of their own natural production of anabolic hormones, the former steroid user also has to contend with a higher than normal number of cortisol receptors. The end result of going off the juice is always the loss of a substantial amount of hard earned muscle. Just as the saying goes, if you want to dance, you’ve gotta pay the band!
For this reason alone, steroids are an extremely poor solution to a lifelong pursuit. However, there is another problem.
Unfortunately, they mask the training and nutrition mistakes that most people make.
The gains come much easier. Therefore, most users don’t bother with learning about the right nutritional approach to building muscle or how to structure an effective exercise program that fits in with a 50 hour work week, the spouse and kids.
Some bodybuilders get so hooked by the gains and the powerful feeling from steroids that they can’t stand being in the gym when they’re not using. Even the pro bodybuilders find it real tough to train when they’re not on the juice. I’ve got to admit, it would be tough to focus on training when you know that no matter what, you’re getting smaller, weaker and fatter.
These are the psychological consequences of anabolic steroid abuse and they are far more damaging than any of the physical side-effects the medical profession tries to scare athletes about.
Here is the real shame; all the scientific research shows that no other type of exercise provides as many direct health benefits as weight training. Bodybuilding without drugs is the healthiest past-time a person can devote their time to.
Based on the physiological and psychological ramifications I’ve highlighted, the use of anabolic steroids among healthy people can wreck the healthiest, most beneficial past-time a person can participate in.
Sure, most people that use anabolic drugs are not elite athletes, they may never enter a competitive area. They can never be accused of cheating fellow competitors and the respective governing sports organization. However, most healthy people that take anabolic steroids will never admit that they are cheating one very, very important entity....themselves.
Q: I read your article on anabolic steroids and enjoyed it immensely. However, one thing I don't agree with you on is the lack of immediate health risks from (anabolic) steroid use. For example, a recent study clearly showed nerve damage to the brain from elevated testosterone levels. What do you think of this research?
A: Based on the results of this study, you could be right. Anabolic steroid abusers could be destroying their brain cells in a big way, that’s according to the findings from researchers at the Yale School of Medicine.
This study revealed that high androgen levels destroy nerve cells, particularly brain cells.
The researchers found that apoptosis was triggered when cultured nerve cells were exposed to higher than normal levels of testosterone. Apoptosis is a form of "cell suicide" in which damaged cells eliminate themselves with less harm to their neighbors - in other words 'programmed cell death'.
This process has already been linked to such diseases as Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease. Don’t let the muscle mag writers fool you into believing that anabolic steroid use is completely harmless. The abuse of any drug carries consequences.
Source: Journal of Biological Chemistry Sept, 2006.