Motivation is key in a fitness journey — it helps sustain a regimen. However, when the drive within becomes an obsession, especially when it is centered around building muscle mass, all too common in modern gyms, people resort to unnatural means and shortcuts such as consuming anabolic steroids or overusing supplements.
Put simply, anabolic steroids are synthetic derivates of the hormone testosterone, which plays a huge role in muscle building. Physiologically, rise in testosterone levels stimulates protein synthesis resulting in increase in muscle size, body mass and strength. The hormone and its derivatives are responsible for the development and maturation of male secondary sexual characteristics as well.
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Side-effects of anabolic steroids
Anabolic steroids, which give instant results, come with long- and short-term side-effects. From harming the cardiovascular system, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and diabetes, to withdrawal symptoms and related psychological issues owing to their addictive nature, steroids build the body but leave it brittle.
Dr Subrata Das, senior consultant, internal medicine and diabetology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, says the risk of developing diabetes increases manifold with prolonged use of steroids. Along with that, they can be prone to hypertension, heart attack and stroke. In women, there are additional side-effects, including changes in the menstrual cycle, deepening of the voice and abnormal hair growth.
“Anabolic steroids are naturally produced in the body (endogenous steroids) [and] are needed for proper body functioning, but the problem is the external consumption and abuse,” says Dr Das.
In ‘Medical Issues Associated with Anabolic Steroid Use: Are They Exaggerated?’, a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, researchers Jay R Hoffman and Nicholas Ratamess express surprise that athletes and bodybuilders continue to experiment with anabolic steroids despite having an understanding of their adverse effects.
The also talks about another aspect of steroid abuse: the harm stemming from self-administration. In many cases, especially in bodybuilders, the adverse effects were made worse since they were also consuming several other drugs – such as diuretics, thyroid hormones, insulin and anti-estrogens — that relieve some side-effects.
Much like any other external drugs, steroids can cause dependency, a form of addiction, and abruptly stopping the use could lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Dr Das narrates the case of a 30-year-old working professional who consulted him with classic symptoms of withdrawal. Upon insistence from someone at the gym, the individual started taking anabolic steroids before abruptly stopping following health concerns. After that he endured frequent episodes of vomiting and would get abnormally tired.
“Abruptly stopping the intake of anabolic steroids results in steroidal withdrawal, where an individual may experience a fall in blood pressure, loss of appetite, loss of weight, frequent episodes of vomiting and darkening of skin,” says Dr Das. “Those who take such supplements should honestly tell their doctor about it and are supposed to be gradually taken off from them. Normally, gym trainers are themselves not aware about such things and push such steroids to their trainees. Using or buying steroids without a doctor’s prescription is illegal. There is no shortcut to muscle building and instead an individual should follow the regular exercise routine and refrain from using such supplements.”
Sixty-five-year-old Premchand Degra from Punjab is well-aware of the widespread steroid abuse in the world of bodybuilding. Today, the former Mr Universe uses his reach in bodybuilding to send out a loud message about its ills. He wants younger athletes and gym goers to realise that no external intervention can replace hard work.
“Nowadays, youngsters consume different types of supplements, which are harmful in the long run,” says Degra. “I’m dead against the use of steroids. I even ask people not to consume pre-workout supplements.”
Patience is key in any pursuit for excellence. The goal should be to lead a healthy, fulfilling life and not big muscles, according to Degra. “A child doesn’t start walking on the day of its birth — some start walking at [the age of] one and some at one and a half years,” he says. “Similarly, muscle building doesn’t happen overnight.”
It takes a proper combination of diet, exercise and rest to build muscles the natural and right way. It is a steady process, and a person should be consistent in their schedule with focus and patience. The body’s protein demands can be met with natural means – ranging from milk, ghee, butter, eggs, meat and fish to lentils, pulses beans and dried fruits. If one is a stickler in diet matters, non-steroidal supplements — which are a rage now — can also be avoided.
“A developed body will remain with you till your death, and the artificial one will fall apart in a short time,” cautions Degra.
- An individual who intends build a good muscular physique needs to maintain a consistent workout routine along with diet and rest.
- Anabolic steroids are naturally produced within the body (endogenous steroids) — and this is necessary for its proper functioning. External consumption of anabolic steroids creates a host of health issues.
- Long-term use of anabolic steroids has a wide range of harmful side-effects, affecting bodily functions such as the cardiovascular, endocrine, dermatological, psychological and musculoskeletal systems.