Are Anabolic Steroids as Bad as People Think?
Given the bad reputation of steroids, one may think the people who use them should be crumbling like cardboard shacks in an earthquake
In times past, say the 1970s, the use of anabolic steroids seemed acceptable, but now the usage of such drugs are is considered unhealthy, if not dangerous. Is this prevailing viewpoint true or false?
Wikipedia’s article about anabolic steroids says that such drugs are derived from the male sex hormone testosterone and 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 the usage of steroids, the International Olympic Committee banned them in 1974. The usage of such drugs and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDS) is called doping.
The article also 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.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Approves the Use of Steroids
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 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 risk factors. For instance, steroids that contain a 17-alpha-alkyl group may cause liver tumors, but 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 quote according to the website MedicineNet.com.
Steroids may also have a profound effect on the brain. On the website for the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the text states that although steroids 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.”
People may have 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 BS?
Information on the website 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.
Baseball’s Jose Canseco Says Steroids Are Safe
Jose Canseco, former outfielder in Major League Baseball and author of Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, wrote in his 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!)
The Demise of NFL Star Lyle Alzado Who Says Steroids Destroyed Him
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."
Is it possible that using anabolic steroids is something one might do under certain medicinal circumstances, such as when athletes are recovering from injuries, but only under the strict supervision of a doctor and only in small doses and for a short period of time?
Keep in mind, though their usage is generally illegal now, for decades athletes around the world were using steroids, HGH and other PEDS with impunity, yet how many cautionary stories like Lyle Alzado’s have been publicized?
If seems safe to suggest that 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, athletic bodies wasting away long before their time - or not. In the end, who will be right – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jose Canseco, Lyle Alzado, or some other athlete or person who changes what we know about steroid usage or abuse?
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© 2010 Kelley Marks