Are anabolic steroids safe?

Most of us have seen people with the perfect bod and yearned for us to look the same. You’d be weird if the thought of taking steroids had never cross your mind. let’s face is, a beach bod is hard to attain- that’s why we all want one.

Most of us know of someone either at the gym or through other means that is probably injecting male sex hormones or other drugs to help them achieve the perfect muscular toned body and usually they seem to get good results and not really suffer any problems. So is it safe and should you be considering it to help get those highly sort after gains at the gym?

This is a difficult area to give advice on but fortunately more and more research is emerging. Interestingly there isn’t much research on how effective anabolic steroids are on increasing muscle mass or, perhaps more importantly, on increasing levels of attractiveness achieving that summer body. It seems to be generally well accepted that they work well for increasing muscle mass but it would be great to see a study comparing levels of perceived attractiveness before and after use of anabolic steroids.

Assuming they work well for this however the question is one of balancing the benefits with the harms. Despite there not being much evidence for the benefits of anabolic steroids like; testosterone injections there is plenty of evidence for harm. Fortunately most of the harm appears to be dependent on how high a dose is used and the duration of use. For example there is evidence that anabolic steroids promote changes in the blood vessels and blood cholesterol that lead to heart attacks and strokes, they cause damage to the liver and they will make a man infertile or unable to have children. Similar to smoking cigarettes though, all of these things (to varying degrees) will harm a man in way that is dependent on how high a dose is used and for how long it is used. The changes that promote development of heart attacks and strokes don’t happen overnight (just like smokers get heart attacks after years of smoking), liver damage caused by other things like hepatitis, alcohol, and fatty liver disease cause problems typically after 10 to 20 years and even though there is evidence that it can takes a long time for fertility to come back to normal it does eventually come back to normal. Anabolic steroid use is also associated with other psychological problems like aggression but the research seems to suggest that this is more related to the types of people that inject steroids than it is the steroids themselves.

So what’s the big issue? In Australia research shows the majority of new injecting drug users are injecting performance and image enhancing drugs rather than things like amphetamines or opiates. In gay and bisexual men the use of these drugs is even higher than the regular population. One only needs to look as far as the gym down the road to see that anabolic steroid use is common. Interestingly the type of person. Are these men doing themselves any significant harm?

I think in a lot of cases there will be no great physical harm that will come to these men but in some cases there will be. There is increasing evidence of infections like Hepatitis C and HIV being spread through injection drug use, there is no monitoring of these medications by doctors as usually happens with prescription medications and there are some side effects like enlargement and abnormal rhythms of the heart and damage to the kidney that aren’t reversible and can very easily be life threatening. There are definitely a few cases each year of people dying due to medical conditions brought on by injecting anabolic steroids.

More importantly I think though, is the psychological harm that these men are experiencing. New evidence links anabolic steroid use with an insecure attachment style and a surprising number of men who inject anabolic steroids are quiet, shy and anxious people. In these men I am skeptical that the muscle bulking benefits of injecting steroids is actually helping their insecurity and for many of them they risk developing a a more serious problem very similar to those with eating disorders. Manorexia or megarexia, as it is sometimes called, or body dysmorphic disorder in the medical literature is a condition associated with very significant mental health concerns. As these men get older, enter into highly stressful occupations and long term relationships their obsession with their body becomes at odds ends with their other priorities in life. The solution sometimes seems to lie in even more time at the gym and higher, longer courses of hormones and this only makes the problem worse.

The physical harms of anabolic steroid use are serious and important but for me the most important harm is psychological. These men enter into a world obsessed with physical appearance and ultimately leave this world not good enough and with even lower self esteem than they had going into it. The solution for these men lies not in more muscles or more hormones but in healthier and more meaningful ways of loving themselves and their bodies.