According to a new study of nonathletic bodybuilders, published Tuesday in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, anabolic steroids for building muscle for that “perfect body” may be harming men’s testicular function for years after they stop taking the drugs.
The study followed 132 men between 18 and 50 who did recreational strength training. The men fell into three groups: never users, current users or former users of anabolic steroids who quit nearly three years earlier.
A new marker was used in the study to determine a lack of testicular function called serum insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3). This was done so because testosterone levels fluctuate throughout the day.
Compared with never users, men who once used steroids had much lower concentrations of INSL3. The longer the men had used steroids, the lower the levels, the study found.
One of the major takeaways of the study is that former users of anabolic steroids still show gonadal dysfunction more than 2½ years following (anabolic steroid) cessation,
“The real story is that the vast majority of anabolic steroid users — more than 90% — are not elite athletes. In fact, they are not athletes at all. They are recreational bodybuilders who use these compounds to look leaner and more muscular,” said, Dr. Shalender Bhasin, a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine who was not involved in the study.
“It has been unclear whether illicit use of anabolic steroids caused a long-lasting or even persistent impairment of the testosterone production in the testicles,” said study author Dr. Jon Rasmussen, a scientist at Rigshospitalet, a highly specialized hospital affiliated with the University of Copenhagen.
Use of anabolic steroids has been linked to shrunken testicles, lower testosterone levels, decreased sex drive, poor erections and low sperm counts, as well as breast growth and hair loss.
This study goes against the popular belief that anabolic steroid abuse is just a problem of cheating in sports among professional athletes.
A variety of side effects can occur when anabolic steroids are misused, ranging from mild effects to ones that are harmful or even life-threatening. Most are reversible if the user stops taking the drugs. However, others may be permanent or semi-permanent.
Most data on the long-term effects of anabolic steroids in humans come from case reports rather than formal epidemiological studies. Serious and life-threatening adverse effects may be underreported, especially since they may occur many years later.
Possible Health Consequences of Anabolic Steroid Misuse
- high blood pressure
- blood clots
- heart attacks
- artery damage
- decreased sperm production
- enlarged breasts
- shrinking of the testicles
- male-pattern baldness
- testicular cancer
- voice deepening
- decreased breast size
- coarse skin
- excessive body hair growth
- male-pattern baldness
- peliosis hepatis
- short stature (if taken by adolescents)
- tendon injury
- severe acne and cysts
- oily scalp and skin
- abscess at injection site