What Happens When You Take Steroids?
With over 3 million Americans having used steroids, the desire to bulk up is strong. But what even happens in your body when you take steroids, and are there major side effects?
Every time you pump a weight at the gym, your muscles experience damage, but the body recovers by forming new muscle protein strands to repair the muscle fibers. Over time, these strands increase in thickness and number, and ultimately, if muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown, your muscles will grow. The degree of growth is largely regulated by testosterone, which increases protein synthesis. It’s why, generally, men have larger muscle mass than women, as they have higher levels of testosterone.
Now, steroids are any compound with a specific four carbon-ring structure. So the term ‘steroid’ actually includes some chemicals that can be used to treat fever and headaches, and even sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. But the type of steroid we’ll be looking at actually mimic natural testosterone with the intention to enhance performance, and are used by more than 15% of gym-goers.
Within a single day of taking steroids, the expression of your genes will begin to change. Steroids easily enter your cells and bind to the androgen receptor. At this point, they can move into the nucleus and attach to your DNA, which activates hundreds of genes to increase protein synthesis while slowing protein breakdown.
If there are any pros to taking steroids it's that they do increase your muscles, while decreasing your body fat at the same time. This is because people who take steroids can have 3-5 times more nuclei in some of their muscle cells. Days in, and you’re quickly increasing muscle size and strength while also protecting muscle fibers against damage, making steroids ideal for exercise tolerance and recovery as well.
But as you continue to take them your behaviour may start to change. Because steroid receptors are found in parts of our central nervous system, like the forebrain, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland, steroids can lead to the classic roid rage. A study also found that mice given steroids over 10 weeks became more aggressive towards other mice put in the same cages.
But that sex drive may not translate to better sex. For female users, steroids can interfere with the estrous cycle and may decrease sexual drive. Masculinization can occur as well with female users gaining deeper voices and starting to grow more body and facial hair.
Male users may experience sperm cell abnormalities and decreased sperm count. Steroids also decrease natural production of hormones that are necessary for maintaining testicular size, meaning your balls will shrink. And since most steroid users follow a cycle of on and off dosing periods, natural levels of testosterone can be quite low at times, causing erectile dysfunction and decreased libido in males. 40% of male users also develop enlarged breast tissue, as steroids break down into estradiol, which stimulates the growth of mammary tissue. Not to mention, steroids also increases acne and the risk of heart disease and stroke in almost half of all users.
So yes, steroids will make you bulk up faster and improve your athletic ability, but as with most things, come with a set of risks and side effects that you’re likely experience as well.