Muscular Development, Jan-Feb 1976

Anabolic Steroids:
The Case of the Misinformed

by Donald Macchia, Ph.D.

Several excellent articles have been published on the topic of anabolic steroids in past issues of S&H and MD, and yet seemingly intelligent lifters continue to subject their bodies to the consequences of these drugs. At the Portchester YMCA, where I presently train, I have sxeen lifters make excellent gains in tehir muscle development and various Olympic and power lifts following an anabolic steorid free program of sensible nutrition, exercise, and rest. Even in light of their fantastic gains the questino of "should we or shouldn't we" is kicked around the gym floor like an old tennis shoe. Were these lifters fully knowledgeable of the possible serious consequences of an anaoblic steroid diet their thoughts would be arrested long before they voice any serious consideration of participating in this dangerous habit. This lack of knowledge the general lifting audience noticeabley enterains prompted me to write this article.

To begin quite simply, it is apparent to the most casual observer that men tend to be more muscular than women. Indeed, a clear cut example of a difference between the sexes is the relative muscle mass, a sexual character dependent upon androgen for its expression. In man the most important androgen is testosterone, which is derived from the Leydig cells of the testes. Approximately 8 mg of testosterone is secreted daily, most of which is metabolized by the liver and excreted in the urine. Testosterone is also present in the blood plasma of women, being derived from the ovaries and adrenal glands, in concentrations roughly 30 times less than that found in men. Other androgens produced in man are androstenedione and dehydroepiandrosterone which is produced in significant amounts by the adrenal glands. Among the many effects of these androgens, such as hair growth, changes in skin color, voice pitch determination, psychologic and behavior changes...etc., is the general growth promoting properites on the body tissues (anabolic action) and an increase in muscl strength.

The discovery of the anabolic effects of androgen has stimulted a search for steroid compounds structurally related to androgens which would have a maximum amount of anabolic activity and a mininmum androgenicity. A number of anabolic compounds have been developed in which the anabolic-androgenic ratio has been markedly altered but none which could demonstrate the total absence of unwanted androgenic effects.

This brings us to an important part of this paper that being the adverse reactions of anabolic steroids. Although little is known about the long term effects of anabolic steroids several undesirable effects have made themselves apparent. These are as follows:

  1. The prevalence in many individuals of acne during treatment with anabolic steroids. This is caused by the androgenic stimulation of growth and secretions of the sebaceous glands of the skin (note: all anabolic steroids have an androgenic effect).

  2. Several of the popular anabolic steroids cause a type of liver damage called cholestatic hepatitis. Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin) is the prominent clinical feature and prolonged exposure to these steroids could possibly cause irreversible liver damage.

  3. Sodium retention and edema (swelling of tissues due to an excessive amount of tissue fluid) are not common but a real possibility. This could be fatal in individuals with heart or kidney disease.

  4. Contrary to popular belief, the anabolic steroid stimulation of cancer growth is a real possibility. When certain cells (i.e., liver cells, thyroid gland cells...etc.) undergo mutation to become cancer cells, they often retain many of the biochemical characteristics of the cells of origin. Amongh the biochemical functions retained by cancer cells is responsiveness to and actual dependence upon certain hormones. Androgenic hormones have been shown to demonstrate general growth promoting properties on the body tissues and this includes active and dormant cancers. Indeed, androgenic deprivation is used clinically to slow cancer growth.

    Note: today in 1999 there is no scientific evidence to support this view.

  5. Possible long term effects on the central nervous system.

Careful attention must be paid to the fact that the effects of anabolic steroids on the human organism have not been so carefully studied and further research in this field may prove to yield yet unknown perilous consequences of long term exposure to these chemical agents.

In the clinical arena anabolic steroids have proved to be of immense importance in (to name a few) the "building up" of patients so that they may endure contemplated surgery or in premature infants and children who require accelerated growth. In the normal individual whose body functions are in proper working order it seems redundant that anabolic steroids would be used to replace the sensible and safe method of muscle and strength development through the proper employment of exercise, rest and nutrition.

In conclusion I might leave you with one further thought: most researchers question the exaggerated claims made as to the "building up" effects of anabolic steroids. It is difficult to decide whether the results one observes with anabolic steroid ingestion are due to increased protein anabolism or to improved nutrition secondary to a feeling of well-being that is often produced by a number of steroids, including androgens and their congeners. Further, there is now question as to the validity of the testing procedure used to examine the potency of the anabolic steorids presently on the market shelves. This would suggest that the anabolic steorids may have but a fraction of their reported protein anabolic activity giving furether support to the idea that improved nutrition may be the major cause of the observed effects of these steroids. It may well be that lifters thoughout this country are taking a big chance with their health for a very small result.