A Steroid is a term that refers to a classification of substances that have similar chemical structures. Examples are hormones, body constituents and drugs. Steroids are referred to as anabolic substances or corticosteroids due to the fact that they are modified in synthetic form to be alike to the testosterone hormone that is common in males. The categorization of steroids can be said to represent drugs that can only be obtained by prescription and are used to treat conditions that lead to the reduction of the mass of lean muscle. Most of the steroids contain only vitamins, amino acids and micronutrients (Merchant, 1992). About 50% of anabolic steroids used in the United States are professionally prescribed by doctors and the other 50% are obtained from the black market. Black market steroids are drugs diverted from legitimate channels and smuggled from foreign countries. They are generally designated for veterinarian use or are inactive counterfeits (Sherry, 1997). The commonly used steroids are smuggled and only a small minority gets their drugs by doctor’s prescription.
Anabolic steroids comprise a group of natural and synthetic drugs proven to be chemically similar to cholesterol and related to the testosterone hormone of the males and its artificial derivatives. Initially, steroids were used in the treatment of certain diseases like anemia, breast cancer and testosterone deficiency. They have however been illegally used by athletes to improve their athletic ability and their physical appearance as they are performance-enhancing and body-building drugs.
Corticosteroids refer to the drugs that aid in the reduction of inflammation is obtainable often through prescription. Unlike steroids, the use of these drugs in sports is considered to be illegal. The action of Anabolic steroids is similar to the testosterone derivatives; they play a critical role in helping in the metabolism process for the proteins that have been ingested in the body. Another important role that they play is synthesis, particularly to the skeletal muscles. They end up creating a feeling of euphoria; this is achieved by causing a hindrance in fatigue (Taylor, 2002).
Commonly used steroids
One of the steroids that find common application is Androstenedione simply referred as Andro; it is considered to be a designer steroid and it is commonly used by athletes. However, in scientific terms there is little or almost no proof to substantiate claims that it enhances performance in sports. It is composed of a natural supplement occurring as a steroid hormone. In the year 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distribution of this drug due to the increase in occurrence of cases that showed that it causes health risks that can ultimately have a major effect on the consumers.
Primobolan is also referred as Methenolone; its use as a steroid has been prohibited. One of the sports in which this drug is commonly used is the Major League Baseball. This drug is administered either as an injection; alternatively, it can be consumed as a tablet. Its popularity is enhanced by the fact that in the process of enhancing strength, there is reduced build-up of muscle and the side effects associated with most of the steroids are absent in its use. Tetrahydrogestrinone simply denoted as (THG) can also be classified as a designer steroid its configuration in chemical terms is similar to that of the prohibited steroids; in fact the use of THG was enhanced by the fact that it was designed so as to reduce the probability of its detection during tests. In the year 2003 the distribution of this drug was prohibited by The Food and Drug Administration and its classification was changed from a supplement to an illegal drug and therefore its use was prohibited.
Clenbuterol is considered to be a bronchodilator; it is an antagonist that is selective and it is used to treat pulmonary diseases that are obtrusive in nature. It also results to an enhancement of the lean muscle mass and it has increased chances for the occurrence of negative side effects. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is secreted by the adrenal glands and therefore it is considered to be a natural steroid it takes the form of a hormone; it is mostly converted into male and female sex hormones mostly taken as either estrogen or testosterone. Supplements associated to DHEA have for a long time been marketed as supplements for anti-aging purposes; however, currently there is little evidence to support these claims. It was removed from the U.S market in 1985 and supplied only by prescription. The adoption of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act provided a leeway for the reintroduction of DHEA, this time it took the form of food supplement to enhance nutritional value. Currently most of the sports organizations classify DHEA under the list of banned substances and therefore athletes are warned against using this drug.
Use of stimulants among athletes has been reported from the media of football; basketball and baseball players have exposed the high rate of drug and stimulant abuse that have resulted to deaths. Use of amphetamines and cocaine is often abused to improve athletics skills (McDonald, 1995). It is however not very clear if stimulants enhance the athletics performance or it is a mere athlete’s perception that they promote quickness, delay fatigue, increases self-confidence, aggression and mask pain. However, other researchers have shown that stimulants can improve some aspects of performance especially in relation to fatigue ((NIDA), 1996). However the risk is substantial as the drugs mask extreme fatigue, this increases the risk of heat exhaustion and can eventually lead to severe cardiovascular complications. Some stimulants considered legally acceptable are widely used and these include caffeine and OTC decongestants. They can reduce fatigue, provide a sense of energy and considerably mask pain. They can however be detrimental when used in high doses and in combination as they cause nervousness, tremors, restlessness, impaired concentration, accelerated dehydration and sleep disturbances.
Miscellaneous Ergogenic Drugs are the most commonly abused drugs which are performance enhancing substances; they include the anabolic steroids and CNS stimulants. Athletic organizations have banned the use of anabolic steroids and stimulants and more effective screening procedures are being implemented to detect the offenders. This has contributed to a search for alternative performance enhancing drugs being the substitute ergogenic substances.
Clenbuterol was used to enhance athletic performance in 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain where at least four athletes were disqualified from the competition (Merchant, 1992). It is known as “Dopers Delight” and it is meant to improve breathing and increase strength. It is currently positively tested in current urine tests for many athletes. Erythropoietin is clinically used in treatment of patients with anemia; owing to the fact that it stimulates production of red blood cells, its thought that it enhances oxygen use thus producing additional energy. It is used as a substitute for blood doping which is the process of attempting to increase the number of red blood cells by rein fusing some of once own blood before an athletic event. Erythropoietin is impossible to detect and has been reported to be widely used by athletes engaged in endurance activities like the long-distant cycling.
Human Growth Factor (HGF) and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) are two types of steroids that are abused by athletes. Human Growth Hormone, also called somatotropin is naturally secreted by the pituitary gland and it helps in achieving the normal growth potential of muscles, bones and other internal organs. Athletes claim that the release of human growth factor is stimulated by use of certain drugs like the levodopa for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, clonidine for hypertension and amino acids. They therefore use the commercial HGF as it cannot be easily distinguished from the natural HGF. Its use is however limited by the high cost. Benefits related to its athletic performance appear to be very controversial though the side effects are manifested by abnormal growth pattern, diabetes, thyroid gland problems, heart diseases and loss of sex drive (Venturelli, 2009). The HGH has been proven the most potent type of anabolic agent; it was only confined to pediatric endocrinology where it was used in treatment of undersized children. There are currently no tests proved capable of detecting it in athletes’ blood or urine.
Side effects associated with use of anabolic steroids
Little effects are associated with low to moderate use of anabolic steroids. Use of high doses by athletes during intense training sessions is attributed to causing significant gains in lean body mass and strength whereas decreasing the content of fat. This leads the athletes to become psychologically hooked as the effects are transient therefore compelling the users to keep using them. The most benefiting athletes are those involved in contact and strength sports whereby muscle gain provides an advantage such as weightlifting and football.
Chronic effects come with higher dose intake and prolonged use. They include increased bad blood cholesterol levels which can clog the arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes. Cardiovascular problems are linked to effects on blood lipids but other findings reveal that steroid users are prone to having enlarged ventricles. This is common to body builders, power lifters and other types of athletes. There is increased risk of liver disorders which may include jaundice and uncontrolled tumor development (Lukas, 1993). Liver damage appears to be the most probable sensation of all possible side effects of steroids and it occurs with all steroids. Ingested anabolic steroids pass through the liver as it is the body’s detoxifying system and metabolism. Anabolic steroids that are administered by oral means have proved to increase the levels of liver enzymes which can result in damages to the liver.
Use of the anabolic steroids for a long time or in large amounts can result in health problems to the person using them. Some of these health risks include unpredictable changes in the levels of cholesterol; which leads to an increase in the levels of low- density lipoprotein while decreasing the concentration of the lipoprotein that have high-density occurrence levels. The high density lipoprotein is considered as cholesterol that if not harmful due to the fact that it prevents any damage to the arteries by providing a mechanism for transporting the excess cholesterol to the liver; once here this cholesterol is broken down and done away with. On the other hand, the low density lipoprotein transports the cholesterol to the liver therefore overburdening it.
Psychologically, these steroids have side effects of irritability and outbursts of anger, mania, psychosis and major depressions. The possible psychological and physical effects with continued high use of the doses results in withdrawal symptoms like steroid craving(52%), fatigue (43%), depression(41%), restlessness (29%), loss of appetite (24%), insomnia (20%), diminished sex drive (20%) and headaches (20%) (Nicklin, 2009)
There are alterations in reproductive systems and sex hormones. These are believed to cause changes in gender-related traits such as breast enlargement a condition called gynocomastia that is characterized by growth and development of breast tissue in males which is due to excess amount of estrogen being present in the body. Through the process of aromatization, there conversion of androgens to form estrogen; this is done in excess and there is deposition to the breast tissue receptors. This excess estrogen causes athletes to have nipple itchiness that is characterized by very extreme pain.
There is reduced size in females’ breasts and increased hair growth in females’ entire bodies. In addition, infertility is common in both genders and observed changes in genitalia atrophy. This results in shrinkage of external male genitalia and enlargement of external genitalia in females (Samples, 1989). There are also adverse changes in skin and hair in both genders which may come with increased incidences and severity of acne, explicit baldness pattern in males and abnormal increased hair body hair. The occurrence of acne causes the skin’s sebaceous glands to have a tendency to reject dihydrotestosterone which is an androgen that is secreted by the body from the testosterone with the help of an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase. Others side effects include an increase in the blood pressure, inhibition of the liver functions which is accompanied by changes in the structure of the heart’s left ventricle. Offsetting of the hormonal balance is a common occurrence and this is a significant side effect. Male athletes with a genetic history in relation to balding will start experiencing baldness. A strong reaction of the scalp to dihydrotestosterone can result to the occurrence of premature balding in male athletes.
Anabolic steroids cause an inhibition of the natural hormones and this effect is considered to be very significant. The intake of these hormones result in the relay of a message the endocrine system; this causes a reduction or a complete stoppage in the production of the hormone. The occurrence of this condition can be attributed to the fact that the body has a function of maintaining balanced conditions; this process in known as homeostasis. For homeostasis to be maintained, the hormones present should be within the allowable range; it should be neither excessively high nor low.
Anabolic steroids result in a communication between the brains and the testicles which results in the reduction in the production of testosterone, this is dependent on the concentration of the used steroid which is present in the blood circulation. This takes place whenever there is an addition of an hormone to the blood; so whether an athlete produces testosterone or ingests anabolic steroids, the communication will still take place (Johnson, 2010). The levels of inhibition caused by the different steroids ranges from a total shut down in the natural process of producing testosterone to just mild reduction which is characterized by a production and circulation of hormones that occur naturally.
More evidently is the persistent unpleasant breath odor as the liver is constantly performing its metabolic process and detoxification. Some other changes include stunted growth during adolescents, tonal variation in females with deepened voice and water retention which causes bloating and swelling of the feet and the lower limbs.
The use of the anabolic steroid has been found to promote formation of additional muscle mass and gains in strength which is the driving factor towards their use by athletes. However loss of muscle mass from its peak level is adversely experienced on its discontinuation. Being considered illegal and resulting in very detrimental healthy risks, they should be avoided not only by athletes but by all professions.
Johnson, B. A. (2010). Addiction Medicine: Science and Practice. USA: Springer.
Lukas, S. (1993). Urine Testing for Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences , 61-68.
McDonald, M. (1995). Fast,Strong,Dead? Chicago: Salt Lake Tribune.
Merchant, W. (1992). Medications and Athletes. American Drugist , 6-14.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 1996: Anabolic Steroid Abuse. Rockville: MD: NIDA.
Nicklin, J. L. (2009). Arrests at Colleges Surge for Alcohol and Drug violations. London: Chronicle of Higher Education.
Samples, L. (1989). “Alcoholism in Athletes:New Direction for Treatment”. The Physician and Sports Medicine. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.