What about the harmful effects of anabolic steroids? Many of the harmful effects of anabolic steroids have been observed in patients receiving these medicines for illness. Windsor and Dumitm observed that at the time of their report 37 tumors of the liver were noted and that 30 of these were malignant, but only two were in healthy adult men who were using steroids for bodybuilding. These two men had taken anabolic steroids for four and five years. There are other life-threatening disorders of the liver that occur in patients being treated. The report also mentioned that abnormal liver function tests were common and were most likely to peak early in the use of steroids, then return to normal within three to four weeks. The researchers commented that the changes were similar to those noted with the use of oral contraceptives. The point is that in adult athletes using anabolic steroids there are not a large number of documented serious illnesses as a result of using them.
Perhaps the most serious common effects of anabolic steroids are increasing the total blood cholesterol levels, decreasing the HDLcholesterol levels that protect against fatty-cholesterol blockage of coronary arteries, and increasing the LDL cholesterol that encourages their development and consequently increasing the risk of heart attacks. True, many athletes tend to have favorable cholesterol levels, except when taking these steroids, and the levels do tend to return to favorable values after stopping steroids. But there are many males who are predisposed to having unfavorable cholesterol values. The use of anabolic steroids in these individuals is automatically harmful. In addition, many bodybuilders are encouraged to follow diets that also tend to adversely affect the cholesterol levels, such as consuming large amounts of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. One of these bad recommendations is to eat lots of eggs on a daily basis.
The prostate gland enlarges in response to stimulation by testosterone. There may be some increased enlargement in males using some anabolic steroids. For men who are destined to have this problem, the additional stimulation by anabolic steroids may contribute to earlier difficulties.
The use of anabolic steroids in adolescence or before sexual and physical maturity imposes additional and significant risks. One of these is simply that the androgenic effects may cause the long bones to calcify early, preventing a person from growing as tall as he otherwise would. This is one of those interesting complex areas about using hormones. Both boys and girls undergo a growth spurt during puberty. But an excess of sex hormones at the wrong time can cause the growth plates in the long bones to calcify early and stop growth. In a boy who has failed to mature physically and sexually and who is short because of a testosterone deficiency, taking testosterone may cause growth. The indiscriminate use of anabolic steroids in boys before the age of 18, or more precisely in boys who have not already had calcification of the growth plates, may prevent full growth.
The second major problem is the effect of the androgenic component of steroids on the immature testicles of the young. In the adult male, testosterone and the androgenic component of steroids may depress sperm cell production and cause the male to be sterile. But that is temporary and once the use of excess hormones is stopped, normal function resumes. That may not be true when anabolic steroids are given to young, immature males and their use could result in future sterility problems. Both of these problems should cause young males to avoid the use of anabolic steroids.
There are many less serious side effects of anabolic steroids. These include acne, with an increase in greasy skin and hair, increased sex drive (which is not always unwelcome), difficulty in sleeping, increased irritability, fluid retention, an increased sense of well-being, increased appetite, muscle spasms, depression, increased frequency of headaches, increased breast size in males, loss of scalp hair and increased hair in other areas of the body
Women also use anabolic steroids, particularly for medical reasons, but also to improve athletic ability Sometimes they are used early in life, including in high school. Anabolic steroids can help improve muscle strength and size in women, but women pay a price because the anabolic steroids do not increase their feminine characteristics but instead accentuate their masculine characteristics. This includes enlargement of the clitoris, deepening of the voice, male pattern baldness and increased growth of hair in other locations, such as on the face. These may all be irreversible. Women may also develop menstrual irregularities, which are usually reversible when normal hormone balance is restored.
Anabolic steroids have an important role for use in specific medical conditions. They pose some significant risks when used by healthy people to influence the body's development and performance. This is particularly true if they are used by individuals who are not physically and sexually mature. The dangers they pose should be fully explained to the population at risk, and that includes youngsters in their early teens. Certainly they should never be used to improve athletic performance in young males in high school or earlier. Nor should they be used simply because a young person wants to improve his appearance.