Are Anabolic Steroids as Bad as People Think?
Given the bad reputation of “roids,” as they’re often called, you’d think athletes who have used them would be crumbling like buildings in an earthquake!
I’ve been hearing about anabolic steroids since the 1970s. In those days the use of such drugs seemed to be acceptable, but now it’s not. Perhaps the main reason for this stance is because steroids may in fact destroy the people who take them. Is this prevailing viewpoint true or false? I’ll do what I can to answer that question.
The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000 says anabolic steroids, derived from the male sex hormone testosterone, can be used to increase weight gain and muscle mass, particularly in the upper body, which is why athletes have been using them since the 1930s. Moreover, it states that “steroids can have serious psychological and physiological side effects, including increased aggressive behavior and cancer of the liver.” After developing a test to detect their use, the International Olympic Committee banned steroids in 1974.
An article in Wikipedia states that “long-term use” of “excessive amounts” of steroids can produce effects such as increased levels of harmful cholesterol, acne, decreased sperm count, hair loss, high blood pressure, stunted growth (in adolescents), liver problems, kidney dysfunction and damage to the left ventricle of the heart, increasing the possibility of heart attacks, although this connection to steroid use has been under dispute. And women who take steroids undergo “masculinization,” including facial hair growth and a deepening of the voice.
Regarding the possibility of heart damage, in another Wikipedia article, Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to using steroids back in the 1970s while engaged in a successful body building career, and has since defended his usage of such drugs. In 1997, Schwarzenegger underwent open heart surgery to replace a bicuspid aortic valve, a condition with which he was born. But could his steroid use have exacerbated this condition?
Steroids adverse effect on the liver may be their most troubling possibility. In an article titled “Anabolic Steroids: Side effects” in the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science, published in 1998, the author states that the use of AS (anabolic steroids) can have myriad deleterious effects on the liver, including the incidence of cancer, though what kind of steroid, how much of it is used and how often it is used, are very important factors. For instance, steroids that contain a 17-alpha-alkyl group may cause liver tumors, though often these tumors are benign and eventually go away.
Perhaps just as potentially devastating, “Steroids also increase the risk that blood clots will form in blood vessels, potentially disrupting blood flow and damaging the heart muscle so that it does not pump blood effectively,” this according to the Web site MedicineNet.com.
Steroids may also have a profound effect on the brain. On the Web site for the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the text states that although AS don’t cause euphoria, their use can affect mood and behavior in significant ways. This psychiatric dysfunction could include aggression, mood swings, irritability, delusions and manic-like symptoms leading to violence or what’s called “ 'roid rage.” Also Animal studies have shown that steroids could be addictive. Researchers have also observed addictive behavior in humans who take steroids, particularly during withdrawal.
The text on MedicineNet.com states that with steroid use “the incidence of life-threatening effects appears to be low, but serious adverse effects may be under recognized or underreported, especially since they may occur many years later.” The text goes on to read “most (effects) are reversible if the abuser stops taking the drugs.”
Perhaps you’ve seen public service announcements (PSAs) on TV showing that steroid use breaks down tissues in the body, particularly muscles, bones and tendons, leading to an eventual collapse of one’s musculoskeletal system (or perhaps a shrinking of body parts). Can steroid use really produce such destructive effects? Or do these PSAs rely on hyperbole, metaphor or just plain b.s.?
Information on the Web site AnabolicEurope.com (a site that sells steroids) shows that very long-term use of steroids may cause muscle wasting of the leg muscles, as well as osteoporosis, a loss of calcium in the bones.
The Website ESPN.com lists weakened tendons as a possible side effect when people use anabolic steroids.
It appears the aforementioned PSAs may rely more on scare tactics than fact, but for some people the degeneration of the human body after using steroids may be an absolute “scary fact.”
Be that as it may, Jose Canseco, former player in Major League Baseball and author of Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, wrote in the book that steroid use is not bad, and that when taken in small doses under the supervision of a physician, can help players get better and even improve their lives by improving the size of their penises, among other things. (Yes, he says his got bigger after using human growth hormone!) Canseco also dismisses the myth that steroids destroy bodies.
In the introduction to Juiced, Canseco wrote, “Yes, you heard me right: Steroids, used correctly, will not only make you stronger and sexier, they will also make you healthier. Certain steroids, used in proper combinations, can cure certain diseases. Steroids will give you a better quality of life and also drastically slow down the aging process.”
Regarding the possible positive aspects of using steroids or human growth hormone, which is often taken with steroids, the product GHR is advertised to cause your body to once again produce its own human growth hormone, assuming you happen to be over 21, when the body apparently no longer needs it. GHR supposedly rejuvenates internal systems and extends the lifespan. (Strange how the body stops producing something that’s supposed to be so good for us!)
In contrast to Canseco's stance, former NFL player Lyle Alzado died in 1992 of a brain tumor that he said was caused by his use of steroids, though his doctors claimed it would be impossible for steroids to cause such an illness.
In an article in Sports Illustrated, Alzado said, “I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 lbs or jump 30 ft. But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way."
It seems clear to this writer that using anabolic steroids is something one might do under certain medicinal circumstances, such as when athletes are recovering from injuries, but only with the strict supervision of a doctor and only in small doses and for a short period of time. Of course, if you play professional sports, you better not touch them at all!
So what can we expect to happen to athletes who have used steroids? Should we pity or damn them? The answer for me is neither. Athletes will always try to make themselves better, one way or another and, ultimately, the choice is theirs to make. In the coming years we’ll see how all of this plays out, for better or worse, bodies crumbling like brittle plaster or not. In the end, who will be right – Jose Canseco or Lyle Alzado?
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© 2010 Kelley Marks