Explained: What are anabolic steroids and how do they impact health?

From two banned Tokyo Olympians to Noida police seizing fake drugs and supplements worth Rs 2 crore, anabolic steroids have often made headlines, but not for the right reasons.

More than a medicine prescribed by doctors, anabolic steroids are generally used by bodybuilders. We take a look at what anabolic steroids are, why they are used, and how they differ from those prescribed by doctors.

What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids are basically lab-made versions of the male hormone testosterone and have a similar muscle-increasing effect as the natural hormone does. It also increases a person’s masculine characteristics, such as facial hair and a deeper voice.

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These are, however, very different from the steroids prescribed by doctors for inflammation, several autoimmune diseases, or to suppress the body’s immune system during a Covid-19 infection. These drugs are called corticosteroids and are laboratory-made molecules that mimic the action of the hormone called cortisol, which controls the body’s stress response, metabolism, and inflammation.

Unlike corticosteroids, anabolic steroids have limited medical use. “Nowadays, anabolic steroids are mostly misused by athletes and sportsmen. Years ago, it was widely used by bodybuilders and given to them in pudiyas. Although this practice is fading, people are still following it by following the advice of their gym trainers. We keep telling them not to take any unknown supplements because they might contain anabolic steroids,” said Dr. Yash Gulati, orthopedic surgeon at the hospitals. Apollo.

What are they prescribed for?

Anabolic steroids have a very limited medical role and are primarily used by doctors to help patients gain weight after serious illness or injury. It could also be prescribed in small doses to the elderly to build muscle mass and in some cases also help treat anemia.

Doctors can also prescribe the drug to men who have low natural testosterone levels. “Some doctors use it for the treatment of osteoarthritis (a disease in which the bones wear down over time), but personally I don’t. I think it shouldn’t be prescribed unless ‘there is a deficiency,’ Dr Gulati added, ‘that’s because misuse can damage the heart and kidneys and lead to anger issues.’

How are anabolic steroids misused?

Anabolic steroids are mostly misused by those who want to bulk up as they help increase muscle mass. A 2019 study in Bhubaneshwar of anabolic steroid users showed that only one out of 74 participants was a professional bodybuilder, of which 18.9% were students, indicating that it is used by people other than doctors. professional athletes.

Although there are no concrete estimates of the number of people using the drug across India, a 2018 study from Jammu and Kashmir found that 7.1% of athletes used it.

What are the health impacts?

Short-term anabolic steroid use can cause acne and hair loss. Prolonged misuse of the substance can also lead to gynecomastia (growth of breasts in men) and erectile dysfunction.

In women, this can lead to the growth of facial hair. It can also cause extreme anger, paranoia, and impaired judgment.

Long-term use can lead to kidney disease and even kidney failure, liver damage and tumors, enlarged heart, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to stunted growth in adolescents.

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