In today’s fast paced society, many people are looking for ‘the quick fix’ to feel, look and be stronger. The market is saturated with supplements, pills, and products promising to add strength and years to your life. Athletes are often the ones to fall victim to those seductive claims. With millions of dollars at stake, remaining young and healthy may ensure long-term contracts, but often at the risk of one’s own health.

It wasn’t until former professional ball player Jose Canseco announced in his book Juiced that he knew of at least 50 ball players taking performance enhancing drugs that the use of steroids came under investigation. The results for many were fines and abolishment from the game they so loved. Since then, major league baseball, as well as many other professional sports, have instilled strict regulations regarding the use of steroids.

But not all steriod use is bad. It is when they are taken without a physician’s supervision and/or abused that they can become lethal. As such, I am going to discuss the many different types of steroids, their benefits, and the long-term health effects they have on your body.

I was inspired to write this article by a client of mine who is battling long-term health effects from a condition known as chondritis (inflammation of cartilage) which has required over 90 operations over several years, and has created other conditions such as spondylitis (degenerative changes in the vertebrae). In order to control the pain, he has had to take a steroid called Prednisone. It concerns me because of the long-term health effects. From working with him, I just feel the need to educate people who take steroids about their benefits and their risks.

The term steroid is applied to a group of naturally occurring fat soluble organic compounds (lipids) whose structure is chemically based on a steroid nucleus. Most people have heard of Testosterone, Prednisone, and Cholesterol, which are all from the steroid family, yet react differently in the body.

There are 3 classifications of steroids: Anabolic, Androgenic, and Cortico 

Anabolic Steroids. The term anabolic is taken from the Greek word meaning ‘build up.’ It is the nitrogen retaining effects of the drug that cause muscles to grow significantly. Anabolic steroids were developed in the late 1930’s to treat hypogonadism, a condition in which the testes do not produce enough testosterone for normal growth. The primary medical uses are for delayed growth through puberty, some types of impotence, and wasting of the body from HIV infection or other diseases.

Androgenic Steroids. These are synthetically produced variants of the naturally occurring male sex hormone testosterone. While anabolic refers to muscle building, androgenic refers to increased male sexual characteristics.

Corticosteroids is a generic name for the group of hormones that have cortisone-like function. They are manmade steroids that mimic the activity of cortisone which is produced naturally in the body and involved in regulating inflammation, thus they are commonly used with injury. They are also used to treat many diseases like asthma, eczema, allergies, arthritis, colitis and kidney disease. Prednisone is a corticosteroid that is very popular in helping with long-term inflammation, but it cannot be taken for very long as it causes bone deterioration.

The useful medical effects of anabolic steroids include:

1. Stimulating protein anabolism in debilitating illness with acute renal failure.

2. Promoting growth in children with pituitary dwarfism and other growth disorders.

Retaining nitrogen and calcium which may benefit patients with osteoporosis and those receiving corticosteroid therapy.

4. Stimulating bone marrow function in hypo- plastic anemia.

The side effects of steroids

When you take a hormone to replace or enhance a natural function in the body, over time the gland responsible for the natural production and release of the hormone atrophies. This is because their abundant presence in the bloodstream sends signals to other organs and tissues and glands to become weak, just like muscles when they are not used. Some of the side effects include infertility, breast development, shrinking of the testicles, excessive growth of body hair, male pattern baldness, tendon rupture, heart attacks, cancer, hepatitis, acne and cysts, HIV/Aids, homicidal rage, mania and delusions.

As with any drug, you need to be under a physician’s care before trying steroids. As I have noted, they can help with certain illnesses and conditions, but their long-term use can be lethal to the body.

Michael K Butler is co-owner of Kinetix Health and Performance center in Palm Desert. He holds a state license as a physical therapist assistant, national certifications of distinction through the NSCA as a strength and conditioning coach, Poliquin International state coach, and as a Full Body Active Release Techniques Practitioner. He can be reached at 760-200-1719 or at [email protected]

References: 1) Alén, M. Androgenic steroid effects on liver and red cells. 2007 Br.J.Sports Med., 19, 1, 15-20.; 2) Bagatell, C. J., Bremner, W. J. Androgens in men – Uses and abuses 2006 N.Engl.J.Med., 334, 11, 707-71. 3) Bahrke, M. S., Wright, J. E., Strauss, R. H. and Catlin, D. H. Psychological moods and subjectively perceived behavioral and somatic changes accompanying anabolic-androgenic steroid use 2010 Am.J.Sports Med., 20, 6, 717-724

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