A few months ago, we looked at how to naturally boost testosterone levels, decreasing body fat and improving health and performance. I ended that post with a cliffhanger, mentioning a final technique to raise testosterone: direct hormone supplementation.
Before I dive into the topic of steroid use, let me first mention that I never recommend steroids and, to my knowledge, never trained an athlete that used them.
That being said, steroids are not the dangerous drug they are made out to be.
I can’t, in one post, dissect the entire history and politics of why the public fears steroids. Instead I’ll list the top myths and then the risks of hormone supplementation.
Myth 1: Steroids are dangerous to the body.
From a toxicological standpoint, anabolic steroids are one of the safest “drugs”. The risk of overdose is almost non-existent, considering the amount necessary to see an effect. Alcohol can cause inflammation and atrophy in almost every cell of the body, whereas steroids improve growth and function of most cells.
There are reports that steroids cause unfavorable blood pressure or cholesterol levels but, as with everything, all factors need to be taken into account. Is the user a major health-nut looking for one more way to boost their performance? Or is it someone that wants to increase size and strength without having to pay as much attention to nutrition and other lifestyle factors?
However, if someone abuses steroids (takes too much, too frequently) they can experience acne growth, liver and kidney damage, and decreased natural testosterone production.
Myth 2: Steroids cause violent outbursts.
If you look at those that are likely to use steroids, they are usually hard-charging athletes with high levels of testosterone and a type A personality. When their personality traits are combined with even more testosterone, and an increase in size and strength, arguments, physical altercations, or other unfortunate events can result.
Myth 3: Steroids cause addiction.
Anabolic steroids are less dependence forming than almost every other substance, including tobacco and alcohol. However, steroids are effective, so when someone stops using them and sees a drop-off in progress, they may become discouraged and return to using them.
Myth 4: Steroids cause suicide.
The number of people taking steroids, that have committed suicide, is miniscule. However, when it does happen, it makes an attention-grabbing headline for news sources.
Many people taking steroids may also take other drugs, including anti-depressants, which affect emotions, thereby increasing risk of suicide.
Most of the fears of steroids are caused by abuse (as opposed to use), the individual taking them, and organizations (the media or government agencies) vilifying or sensationalizing particular issues.
The one last common complaint is that “using steroids is cheating”.
However, it is naïve to think that any top athlete is not enhancing their performance or trying to get a foot up on their competition by any means necessary.
Why does each sport have a hundred top performers and then thousands of good players? Why does the athlete working just as hard not achieve the same results?
Sure, genetics and luck may play a role…but the fact is, when millions of dollars are at stake, in the entertainment industry, individuals will seek out ways to boost their performance and surpass competitors.
If your favorite athlete is doing things that no human has done before, chances are they have found a way to enhance their performance through supplementation.
My solution for this issue is to simply create two leagues – one that is tested and one that is untested. This exists in the world of powerlifting and bodybuilding. There are “raw” or natural competitions that have strict testing procedures and other competitions with no testing requirements.
So, to summarize, the risks of steroid use are:
1.) Decreased testosterone production. Depending on the dose and length of time, normal levels may not return after discontinuation.
2.) Over-use, or abuse, can damage multiple organs and result in many dangerous outcomes, both physical and mental.
3.) If an individual is prone to addiction, they risk becoming dependent upon steroids.
The main benefit of steroid use is an increase lean body mass, decrease in body fat, and improvements in health and performance.
A great quote I heard recently:
“If you have to take steroids in high school to play college football then that’s going to be the end of your career. If you have to take steroids in college to make professional football then you’re going to have a short career. If you don’t have to [take steroids] until you’re at a professional level, then you’re probably going to have a long career.”
Again, I am not recommending steroids, and personally don’t have much interest in them. I am much more interested in finding out what my body can do on its own. But we need to avoid an emotional, knee-jerk response and condemn the whole concept simply because our government has put in place puritanical drug laws.
Even with steroids, there is no substitute for smart training, clean eating, and a healthy lifestyle!