The 9 Downsides of Anabolic Steroids

Downsides of Anabolic Steroids
A tempting triad: Weights, muscle and testosterone (Courtesy: Victor Freitas;

I prescribe steroids all the time…to men who need them. The goal is to bring low testosterone back to normal levels, to put the oil back in the engine. This therapy is based on the medical fact that the health benefits of normal testosterone levels are well recognized. But when the goal is to build as much muscle as possible, it is true that more testosterone (i.e. anabolic levels) is better? Yes, it is…for muscle. Testosterone allows exercised muscle to recover faster and be ready for exercise again, which ultimately builds mass. And certainly many men who use steroids to either body-build or live longer actually look extremely fit and healthy. But are they really?

Is More Better?

Our bodies regulate testosterone levels very carefully and various body parts use testosterone for different functions. For example, bones use it to keep bone density normal. Kidneys use it to make more blood. The skin uses it to stay supple and healthy. But, when we add extra testosterone to the mix and disturb the normal balance of things, the body reacts differently in different organ systems. But it does react, you can count on that.

Here are 9 untoward things that can occur when taking extra testosterone:

  1. Acne and oily skin
  2. An increased rate of balding
  3. Breast tenderness and nipple discharge (gynecomastia)
  4. Mood swings (“roid rage”)
  5. Erectile dysfunction
  6. Infertility. Testosterone is being studied as a contraceptive!
  7. Blood doping (polycythemia). Vitamin T increases erythropoietin in the kidney and thickens blood (“blood doping”). Too much blood causes clots and strokes – no joke!
  8. The cliff of withdrawal (T-slump). Testosterone is not technically addictive, but coming off of it can lead to intolerable fatigue, weakness and energy loss as natural testosterone production is suppressed. And if taken long enough, anabolics may lead to the need for lifelong testosterone replacement.
  9. Early death. Rumored for years, but is it true? A recently published study suggests that this is true as mortality was 3-fold higher in Swedish anabolic steroid users relative to nonusers.

Since this last point is the hardest to swallow, let’s take a closer look at it. Professional body builders have been known to abuse anabolic steroids, but they also pay close attention to their health and fitness, right? So, do they live as long as the average American man (78 years)? An analysis of 23 “old timer” body builders who competed in the pre-steroid era showed that they lived an average of 81 years. Not bad. In my off-the-cuff analysis of 20 younger, steroid-using bodybuilders, I found that the average age at death was 52 years. Not only that, but 65% of them died before age 50 and 25% of them died in their thirties!

A Lethal Injection

Of course, there might be other important differences between “natural” and “steroid-enhanced” bodybuilders — for instance, the use of other anabolics and toxic supplements, overeating and protein loading — to explain this lifespan difference. Truth is, it’s not easy to measure any of these factors, given the highly personal, illegal and clandestine nature surrounding them.
Regardless, a 1/3 reduction in longevity among modern steroid body builders, give or take, is an epidemic by any measure.

So, be careful out there. Sure, anabolic steroids are available (illegally) in gyms and even online. But, given the downsides, consider meeting with a responsible medical provider before embarking on a journey with ’roids.