Anabolic steroids are synthetically-produced derivatives of testosterone, a natural hormone that, among other things, promotes muscle growth. There are a number of different types of manufactured steroids. The official name for this type of steroid is androgenic anabolic steroid, or in English, "a drug that promotes protein synthesis (anabolic) and leads to masculine secondary sexual characteristics (androgenic)."
To understand how anabolic steroids work, it helps to know how testosterone works. Testosterone is a male sex hormone (although women also produce it) that serves two basic purposes. During the first stage of puberty, young men produce an increased amount of testosterone for a number of months. During this stage, the bulk of the male physical maturation process occurs including bone growth, deepening of voice, and development of facial and body hair. Testosterone also maintains the male reproductive system and helps to produce larger body size and muscle mass.
Androgenic steroids are prescribed by doctors for therapeutic treatment of conditions where testosterone (or its effects) need to be added or replaced. Anabolic steroids are designed to copy the muscle-building effects of testosterone but with fewer of the accompanying "masculinization" effects.
Users of anabolic steroids can be divided into two groups:
- Those who use them for medical purposes
- Those who use them to enhance their strength and athletic ability, and/or enhance their physical appearance by adding muscle mass
Anabolic steroids are prescribed for a small number of legitimate medical purposes. These include the treatment of:
- People with significant weight loss due to extensive surgery, trauma, HIV, cancer, or other conditions
- Bone pain accompanying osteoporosis
Athletes and Body Enhancers
As far back as the 1950s, athletes have been using anabolic steroids. The reason is simple: the use of these drugs in conjunction with intense physical training increases the body's overall muscle mass, lowers the body's percentage of fat, and thus, enhances body strength. These effects occur in both men and women.
Moreover, some people, including teenagers, use anabolic steroids to help enhance their physical appearance. This is troubling because the potentially dangerous side effects of using anabolic steroids are heightened in adolescents.
Dangerous Side Effects
The potentially dangerous side effects of anabolic steroid use are numerous. Men run the risk of testicular shrinkage, reduced sperm count, impotence , baldness, and enlarged prostate. Women can suffer from masculinization effects, such as deepened voice or the growth of facial hair, cessation of menstruation, enlargement of genitals, and reduction of breast size. Both sexes run the risk of serious medical problems, including high blood pressure and liver damage. Both heart attacks and strokes have been described in young persons takin