We hear about steroids all the time. But what are steroids? Steroids are hormones, substances produced by glands (or organs) that regulate bodily functions and behavior. It is important to understand that there are several types. Steroid hormones in general include:
- Corticosteroids, including most synthetic steroid drugs, with natural product classes the glucocorticoids (which regulate many aspects of metabolism and immune function) and the mineralocorticoids (which help maintain blood volume and control renal excretion of electrolytes) and,
- Anabolic steroids (also known as androgenic steroids), natural and synthetic, which interact with androgen receptors to increase muscle and bone synthesis.
In popular use, the term “steroids” often refers to anabolic or anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). Anabolic steroids may be synthetic, or human-made, and are variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. The proper term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids [AAS]. “Anabolic” refers to muscle building, and “androgenic” refers to increased male sex characteristics. Some common names for anabolic steroids are Gear, Juice, Roids, and Stackers.
Our focus today is on the anabolic version, or anabolic-androgenic steroids [AAS]. These are used to build muscle mass to enhance athletic performance. (If your 65-year-old grandmother is on “steroids” they are most likely not anabolic but corticosteroids which are frequently used for such conditions as asthma, bad allergy reactions [e.g., poison ivy]) or some auto-immune diseases. The most frequently prescribed anabolic steroid is testosterone.
There are legitimate medical indications for AAS to be prescribed to patients. The most common indication is to prescribe testosterone for patients that are deficient in testosterone, which includes hormone replacement for trans-gender men. Testosterone is frequently used off-label in men with sexual dysfunction due to low testosterone associated with aging [Low-T]. [Testosterone is not recommended for low testosterone status due to aging due to potential risk for cardiovascular events and stroke.] AAS are prescription only medications. They are sometimes taken without medical guidance to increase muscle mass and to improve athletic performance. AAS are recognized to enhance athletic performance by improving endurance and strength, by reducing post-exertion pain and enhancing recovery time. If used in edication that can be legally prescribed there are steroids not approved by the FDA for medical use including androlone and dromostanolone. These are frequently used by bodybuilders, power athletes, and weightlifters for the desired effect on muscle building and shaping. This style of use can cause serious side effects including addiction.