Dangers & Health Risks of Anabolic Steroids

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson we'll explain what anabolic steroids are and why people take them. Then we'll get into the dangers of using these drugs and what consequences they can have on your health.

What Are Anabolic Steroids?

We're all familiar with the pictures of body builders, teeming with muscle, looking like they'll nearly burst through their skin. Or the athletes that seem unstoppable--lifting more and running faster than we can imagine. We also probably recall what happens next for a select few of these all-stars: drug testing that results in detection of performance enhancing drugs. One type of drug frequently used are anabolic steroids.

Anabolic steroids are drugs that are man made versions of testosterone, a male hormone that affects the whole body. The word 'anabolic' refers to a type of metabolism in the body which builds structures, like muscle. Catabolism, on the other hand, is the type of metabolism that breaks down materials in the body for energy. Thus, anabolic steroids are compounds that increase the production of muscle.

Although some people take anabolic steroids as a prescription to help with certain conditions that involve muscle degeneration, other people take steroids illegally as a performance enhancing drug. Today we'll talk about the consequences and dangers of taking anabolic steroids without a prescription.

Lance Armstrong was a world class athlete that admitted to using anabolic steroids in 2013
lance armstrong

Reproductive Problems

Hormones, like testosterone, are very important for our reproductive organs as well as the rest of our organs. They send important messages around our body. If we have too much or too little, the messages in our body are messed up and our bodies start to change. In males and females, too much testosterone from anabolic steroids can have serious consequences.


In males, taking anabolic steroids increases levels of testosterone to many times what they would normally be. When testosterone is high, levels of gonadotropin hormones like luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are low. These hormones regulate the testes and sperm production, so if these hormones drop, the testes in males decrease in size and less sperm are made. In addition, the extra testosterone is converted to estrogen, causing breast development in males.

Extra testosterone is converted to estrogen
testosterone to estrogen


In females, testosterone levels are naturally much lower than males. Artificially increasing testosterone causes a decrease in FSH and LH, like in males. These hormones regulate ovulation, or release of eggs, and the menstrual cycle. Females on anabolic steroids can experience infertility and a disrupted menstrual cycle. Other male characteristics start to appear in females who take anabolic steroids, like hair loss, baldness, decreased breast tissue, and deepening of their voice.

Problems with the Heart and Kidney

Anabolic steroids also have an impact on other organ systems (in both sexes). Cells in the cardiovascular system, like the heart and blood vessels are also affected by testosterone. Anabolic steroid users have higher blood pressure, lower levels of good cholesterol, higher levels of bad cholesterol, and heart problems. Specifically, the left ventricle, the area of the heart that pumps blood to the body, thickens and can lead to problems pumping blood and eventually a heart attack.

The left ventricle can thicken with excessive anabolic steroid use leading to cardiovascular disease
left ventricular hypertrophy

The kidneys are also affected by steroid use. Your kidneys are important for cleaning your blood and getting rid of toxins. Body builders that have been taking steroids for at least 8 years were found to have a rare disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which damages the part of the kidney needed to filter blood. This disease can progress into renal failure, with patients needing a kidney transplant.

A new kidney may need to be transplanted to replace diseased kidneys during extended anabolic steroid use
kidney transplant

Changes to the Brain

As a hormone, testosterone also affects the brain. Use of anabolic steroids causes an increase in aggression. Some users report an increase in violent behavior, even robbery, rape, or burglary, although this depends on the person as well as the type of steroid being taken.

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