What You Need to Know About Steroids
What comes to your mind at the mention of steroids? The picture that probably flashes across that your mind is that of a hulking person. There is nothing wrong with you if that is the case. After all, so much has been said about professional bodybuilders using them to achieve intimidating look. But do you actually know steroids are of different types and offer medical uses? Probably not. We discuss all you need to know about steroids in this piece.
What are steroids?
Broadly speaking, steroids are natural substances that serve diverse purposes in the human body. They are described as organic compounds featuring four rings of 17 carbon atoms that are bonded together. One of the main biological functions of steroids is that they regulate the fluidity of cell membranes. Some others serve as signaling molecules that activate steroid hormone receptors. In terms of function, they have been classified into the following major categories, among others:
But whenever talking about types of steroids, the focus appears always be more on corticosteroids and anabolic steroids. Much of what we will discuss here will therefore center on these two types.
The types of steroids identified earlier have specific benefits for which they are used. We will discuss these variants separately along with their uses.
These steroids are produced in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys. They are the most popular organic compounds of this kind used for medical purposes. They are employed in the treatment of a variety of conditions because they help in controlling inflammation and enhancing the immune system. The conditions for which corticosteroids are used include:
- Lupus, Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune diseases
- Eye diseases
- Skin conditions, such as dermatitis, psoriasis or eczema
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Certain types of cancer
Corticosteroids can be taken orally, topically or via injections. Popular prescription drugs featuring this type of steroids include prednisone and prednisolone. In terms of ointments and creams, common ones include triamcinolone and betamethasone. Steroids are quite powerful and are medically used only for a short period of time in most cases.
These are usually what comes into the mind of many persons at the mention of steroids. Known scientifically as anabolic-androgenic steroids, these are synthetic substances that are somewhat similar to sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. They are also said to be produced within the body. The “anabolic” in the name refers to their muscle or tissue building effect, while “androgenic” describes improved male characteristics. However, the androgenic part of the name is commonly omitted by people. But from the full scientific name you have an idea of why bodybuilders often use them. Street names for anabolic steroids include roids and juice. These sometimes reflect the brand name of a particular one.
While steroids seem to be known more for bodybuilding and performance enhancement, it is mostly illegal to use them for those purposes. They have their medical uses, but these are limited and the drugs are only available on prescription. Healthcare professionals may prescribe these steroids as a remedy for insufficient testosterone production. Possible uses also include treatment of certain kinds of anemia and delayed puberty.
But the use of anabolic steroids for performance enhancement and muscle mass building is more popular. They are used mainly because of how they seem to replicate the functions of testosterone. The drugs work in different ways to achieve this effect. Some directly mimic the functions of the male sex hormone, while others merely causes the body to produce more of the substance. Doctors are not expected to prescribe anabolic steroids to healthy, young people. And it is illegal to get and use steroids without a doctor’s prescriptions.
There are numerous types of anabolic steroids available on the market. The more popular ones include:
Users may take anabolic steroids as oral pills. But they appear to be mostly injected directly into the muscles. Abusers are known to take 10-100 times higher dose than what a doctor would prescribe for medical purposes. This exposes them to grave risks.
Side effects of steroids
Doctors do not prescribe steroids often because they are quite strong and could lead to serious side effects. The risks are even greater with the anabolic or androgenic variant. These side effects, which may be irreversible, are often as a result of high amount of testosterone in the body. They include:
Stunted growth – Healthy young persons, such as teenagers, are made vulnerable to growth issues when exposed to steroids. This is especially the case when such persons are yet to reach their full adult height. Hormone levels peak at certain points (usually around puberty) and then start to drop. So when steroid use causes hormone levels to rise, this may cause the body to feel puberty has been reached. This puts a halt to growth and is a concern when the affected person is still short. Increasing number of teenagers are said to experiment with steroids. For example, the number of high school students who admitted to trying them rose by one 0.1 percentage point to 2.1 percent in 2013. Grades school students are also not left out.
Hormonal imbalance – Your hormone levels may be thrown out of balance from improper use of steroids. They can disrupt male and female hormone levels. Side effects that may arise from this, in men, include shrunken testicles, low sperm count, and gynecomastia (growth of breasts). Females may develop masculine features, such as deeper voices and abnormal body hair, while also experiencing reduction in breast size.
Mood swings – You may experience unpleasant changes in your mood from the use of steroids. They are known to affect the limbic system in the brain that helps to regulate your moods and emotions. Irritability, depression, manic behavior, delusions or violent aggression could result from this. Some people have supposedly been induced by these drugs into doing things they’d ordinarily not have done, such as murder.
Other possible side effects of these substances include:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Male pattern baldness
- Liver damage
- Kidney Failure
- Heart failure
The scariest thing about these side effects is that some are irreversible. Steroid use may ultimately lead to premature death. This could be from the awful conditions it gives rise to. It may also occur indirectly from life-threatening viral infections, such as HIV, through sharing of injection needles.
Steroids can be addictive. But addiction to them is different from that of alcohol and other drugs. The effects people hope to achieve from using them make such to be bent on using them. These might even cause them to treat potential side effects slightly.
Once addicted to steroid use, you first need to come to a conclusion that whatever benefits you hope to get are not worth the risks. This is essential for you to be able to stop using them. But if a loved one is the person suffering an addiction, you should help them get medical care. Presence of the drugs in the body can be detected via urine tests. Medical and psychological interventions are commonly used when it comes to dealing with steroid abuse.
Medical treatments aim mainly at dealing with side effects that result from steroid use. These include conditions that we mentioned previously, such as liver damage, kidney damage and high blood pressure. It has to be noted, though, that not all side effects need treatment – they disappear when you stop using steroids. At the same time, some of these side effects are permanent and so nothing can be done to reverse them.
Another approach to dealing with steroid issues is psychological counseling. This helps to address emotional needs that drove a person into using these substances in the first place.
It cannot be disputed that steroids can be beneficial. They can help you achieve a ripped body among other benefits. But their use may not be worthwhile if you consider the inherent risks. The hazards of these drugs are even made greater by the fact that those who use them illegally take very high doses. They weaken your immune system and make you an easy target for illnesses and diseases, even when you look intimidating. Steroids may lead to untimely death. So you need to watch how you use them, if you have to.