Within the body there are several steroidal compounds. Some of the main compounds are Testosterone and Estrogen. These compounds regulate various functions of the body from bone growth to metabolism. When steroids are taken into the body from outside sources like pills or injections they can negatively impact the bodies natural hormonal balance. As more and more steroids are taken the body’s natural production of steroids slows and eventually stops. This happens because the body is trying to maintain the proper balance of hormones in the body, and to do that it stops producing its own hormones. When steroids use is stopped, the body its not producing its own hormones and so the levels in the body drop drastically and this can cause many problems.
Effects in Males
When dealing with steroid abuse, there are several effects that predominantly only produce symptoms in men. The effects, while not life threatening, can produce some startling physical changes in the body including shrinkage of the testicles, baldness, and breast enlargement.
- Testicular shrinkage
This is a condition where the size of the testes shrinks. Steroid use causes suppression of natural testosterone production, which in turn causes the diminishing size of the testes. The decreased size impairs the testes ability to produce sperm. This can lead to sterility, which is usually a temporary side effect that goes away after steroid usage is stopped, however excessive use has been noted to cause permanent sterility in some.
Steroids can cause pre-mature baldness. The baldness is caused by a metabolite of certain steroids called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The body produces its own DHT, but when steroids are used, levels of DHT are raised to levels that can cause baldness to occur.
- Breast enlargement
Gynecomastia, or breast enlargement, is a condition where men develop breast tissue. The development of breast tissue is usually associated with high levels of estrogen in the body. The high levels occur as a result of certain steroids then when used are metabolized into estrogen.
Effects in both males and females
There are a number of negative side effects associated with steroid abuse that are common to both men and women. Some of the less severe effects are tendon tears, hypertension, stunted growth, jaundice, and acne. The more serious effects include an increased risk of cardiac disease and liver cancer/disease.
Jaundice is a condition caused by the excess of bilirubin in the blood and it produces a yellowing of the skin. Bilirubin is a compound that is usually excreted with the bile. Anabolic steroids can interfere with the flow of bile in the body. If the flow of bile is disrupted then the bilirubin in the blood cannot be excreted and stays in the body. Jaundice itself is usually not that serious, but it is usually a sign of more serious problems with the liver.
The severe acne is a result of the stimulation of the sebaceous glands. These glands produce the oily substance that is on our skin and hair, which help to waterproof the skin. Steroid abuse causes the sebaceous glands to be over stimulated and in return much more of the oily substance is secreted which then leads to excessive acne.
- Stunted growth
Stunted growth is a condition where the growth plates are prematurely fused causing growth to stop. Metabolites of the hormone estrogen regulate the slowing and eventual fusing of the growth plates. When metabolized by the body, certain steroids produce estrogen metabolites, which when present in significant levels can cause premature fusing of the growth plates and permanently stop growth
- Tendon tears
Tendon tears can occur as a result of the muscle building properties of steroids. When steroids are used muscle growth is so rapid that tendons cannot keep up with the pace and they loose their ability to support the muscles. A result of the diminished connective abilities is that when the muscles are exerted under some level of stress, the tendons tear under the pressure.
Blood pressure is regulated by various different mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is by steroidal hormones like aldosterone. Steroid abuse can cause the hormone balance in the body to be disrupted and can cause hypertension, or high blood pressure.
- Cardiac disease
One of the reasons for cardiac disease by way of steroids is left ventricular hypertrophy. That means that the sizes of the cells in the ventricle are increasing. This increase in size can negatively impact the hearts ability to pump blood to the body, which can lead to heart failure.
- Liver disease/cancer
The other side effect, liver cancer, is mainly limited to oral steroids. Oral steroids are harder for the liver to metabolize and excrete from the body. Continued use of oral steroids can cause a condition called neoplasm, tumor growth, which may either be benign or malignant.
Effects in Females
In women, steroid use usually leads to side effects that cause some type of infertilty and often development of male like features, like facial hair and deepening of voice
When taking steroids, testosterone levels in women can become highly elevated. This increase in testosterone can cause women to develop male characteristics. Some of the effects are abnormal hair growth and the deepening of the voice.
Steroids can interfere with hormones in the body that regulate the menstrual cycle. Currently steroids are being studied for there contraceptive properties