Anabolic steroids are pharmacological drugs that mimic the action of the male sex hormone testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. Anabolic steroids accelerate protein synthesis within cells, which leads to severe hypertrophy of muscle tissue (in general, this process is called anabolism), as a result of which they are widely used in bodybuilding. The action of anabolic steroids is conventionally divided into two directions: anabolic activity and androgenic activity . The word “anabolic” comes from the Greek “anabolein”, which translates as “build up”, the word “androgenic” comes from the words “andros” and “genein”, which translates as “to make a man.”
90-95% of all cases of steroid use are in men, while, as shown by a study, the main motivation is to gain a competitive advantage in the person of sexual partners, as well as to increase their social status, influence and self-affirmation.
Anabolic steroids have a large number of synonyms:
- AS (abbr. Anabolic Steroids)
- AAS (abbr. Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids – the official name in foreign literature)
- Vitamins (slang term in bodybuilding)
- Chemistry (slang term in bodybuilding)
- Pharma (slang name in bodybuilding)
History of anabolic steroids
The use of anabolic steroids began even before their identification and isolation. The medical use of animal testicular extract began in the late 19th century. In 1931, Adolf Butenandt was able to isolate 15 mg of androstenone from 10,000 liters of urine. This anabolic steroid was subsequently synthesized by Leopold Ruzicka in 1934.
In the 1930s, it was already known that testicular extract contained a more potent anabolic steroid than androstenone. Three groups of scientists, funded by three competing pharmaceutical companies from different countries: the Netherlands, Nazi Germany, and Switzerland, began their search for more potent ingredients. So, in May 1935 Karoly Gyula David, E. Dingemanse, J. Freud and Ernst Laqueur managed to isolate crystalline testosterone . The hormone got this name based on its origin: the dough is a testicle, sterol is a steroid structure, and the ending is -one, which indicates that the substance is a ketone.
The chemical synthesis of testosterone from cholesterol was carried out in the same year by Butenandt and G. Hanisch. A week after this event, the third group Ruzicka and A. Wettstein filed an application for patenting a new method of chemical synthesis of testosterone. Ruzicka and Butenandt received the Nobel Prize for their inventions in 1939.
Human clinical trials, including oral methyltestosterone and testosterone propionate injections, began in 1937.
The first mention of an anabolic steroid in the history of strength sports dates back to 1938 when it comes to testosterone propionate in a letter to the editor of Strength and Health magazine. There are rumors that in Nazi Germany, anabolic steroids were used on soldiers in order to increase aggression and endurance, but at present these facts have not been officially confirmed. However, Adolf Hitler himself received injections of anabolic steroids, according to his personal physician. Anabolic steroids were used by the Nazis in experiments on concentration camp prisoners. In other countries, however, anabolic steroids were used to treat and recover malnourished prisoners who had been released from the camps.
Improvements in the anabolic properties of testosterone were carried out in the 1940s in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries such as East Germany, where anabolic steroids were used to improve the performance of Olympic weightlifters. In response to the success of the Russian weightlifters, the US Olympic team physician, Dr. John Ziegler, began working with chemists to develop an anabolic steroid with less androgenic activity , resulting in Methandrostenolone . New drug has been approved by the FDAin 1958. It is most often prescribed for the treatment of severe burns and the elderly, however, most of Methandrostenolone is consumed in bodybuilding and other strength sports. Dr. John Ziegler prescribed only small doses for athletes, but later he noticed that athletes who exceeded the dosage had prostate hypertrophy and testicular atrophy .
In 1976, anabolic steroids were banned by the International Olympic Committee, this ends the history of their legal use in sports, and 10 years after that, special tests were developed to determine anabolic steroids in urine.
The Search for New Anabolic Steroids
Currently, the entire variety of anabolic steroids and their modifications is based on four main ideas:
- Alkylation at the alpha-17 position with a methyl or ethyl group, to prevent drug degradation in the liver, which makes oral administration possible in tablet form.
- Esterification in the beta-17 position, which makes the drug soluble in fats, and allows you to create a depot in the tissues, which is absorbed for a long time, thus significantly increasing the duration of action (up to several months) of the anabolic agent.
- The change in the ring structure of the anabolic steroid belongs to oral and parenteral drugs, associated with the desire to increase the anabolic index .
- A structural change that inhibits the conversion of steroids to estrogens .
There is also active development of a new class of selective androgen receptor modulators .
Legality and legal status of steroids
Almost all forms of steroids are included in the list of “potent and poisonous substances for the purposes of Article 234 and other articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation”. The turnover of various AS entails potential criminal liability.
The mechanism of action of steroids
The mechanism of action of anabolic steroids is not similar to that of peptide hormones. Once in the bloodstream, steroid molecules are carried throughout the body, where they react with skeletal muscle cells, sebaceous glands, hair follicles, certain parts of the brain and some endocrine glands. Anabolic steroids are fat-soluble, so they can penetrate the cell membrane, which is composed of fats; inside the cell, anabolic steroids interact (bind) with androgen receptors in the nucleus and cytoplasm.
Activated androgen receptors transmit a signal into the cell nucleus, as a result of which gene expression changes or processes are activated that send signals to other parts of the cell. As a result, the synthesis of all types of nucleic acids is stimulated and the process of the formation of new protein molecules is started.
The effect of anabolic steroids on muscle growth is due to the following mechanisms:
- acceleration of protein synthesis
- reduced recovery time
- reducing the effect of catabolic hormones (cortisol, etc.)
- displacement of cell differentiation towards muscle cells, reducing the formation of fat cells
- acceleration of metabolic reactions, due to which fat breakdown occurs
- muscle memory
Effects of anabolic steroids
The effects of anabolic steroids fall into two main categories: anabolic and androgenic .
- Significant gain in muscle mass (5-10 kg per month)
- Increased strength
- Increased endurance and performance
- An increase in the number of red blood cells
- Strengthening bone tissue
- Decrease in fat reserves
- Hypertrophy of the prostate
- Testicular atrophy
- Hair loss on the scalp, and activation of growth on the face and body
From which it can be seen that only anabolic effects are pursued in bodybuilding. Currently, steroids are being developed, which have a pronounced anabolic effect and a low androgenic effect. The indicator that reflects this ratio is called the anabolic index . At the moment, almost all anabolic steroids have pronounced androgenic effects.
- Increased appetite
- Boosting self-confidence and self-esteem
- Increased sex drive
Side effects of anabolic steroids
In the list below, side effects are listed according to their frequency of occurrence.
During the course:
- Irritability or “steroid rage”
- Increased blood pressure
- Acne (acne)
- Increased libido (seen as beneficial in some cases)
- Mood swings
- Fluid retention (in flavored ones)
- Increased cholesterol levels (as a result – atherosclerosis)
- Gynecomastia (caused only by those anabolic steroids that are converted to estrogens or those that have progestin activity – trenbolone and nandrolones)
- Masculinization in women
- Liver damage (characteristic of those drugs that have a methyl group in the alpha-17 position)
- Myocardial hypertrophy with the development of ischemia
- Stunted growth at a young age
- Hair loss (very rare)
After the course:
- Decreased libido
- Decreased sperm production
- Testicular atrophy (with overdose and long courses)
The picture of complications is largely determined by the pharmacological profile of the drug, some are safer, others less. To minimize the risk, strict adherence to the administration regime and the supervision of a medical specialist are required.
Exaggerating the dangers of steroids in the media
Despite the variety of side effects of anabolic steroids, it should be noted that the information about them is currently exaggerated. In the press and on television, you can often hear that taking anabolic steroids leads to inevitable infertility, impotence, liver damage, and so on, although in fact, even excessive doses of steroids do not always lead to irreversible consequences.
In addition, it is necessary to distinguish between the concept of “use” and “abuse”. So, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), taking anabolic steroids according to the instructions in 80-95% does not cause complications and side effects, while most of the side effects are completely reversible.
Abuse involves the use of steroids in high doses or excessive duration of courses. In this situation, the risk of side effects increases significantly, and the incidence of irreversible complications increases. Typically, in the media, steroids are presented against the background of “abuse”, thus creating a false picture of the extreme danger of using anabolic steroids.
Preventing side effects
- Do not exceed recommended doses
- Do not combine several anabolic steroids if it is not provided for by the course
- Do not exceed the duration of the course
- Women are generally not advised to take anabolic steroids, or make a choice from drugs with a high anabolic index.
- Do not use anabolic steroids under the age of 25
- Be sure to include PCT in the course , this will significantly reduce or prevent many side effects.
These recommendations can reduce the incidence of side effects to 1% or less, as well as preserve the gained muscle mass and results.
Anabolics in bodybuilding
Anabolic steroids can be used in bodybuilding primarily for the purpose of increasing muscle mass and strength. In addition, steroids help preserve muscle mass during drying and work on the relief, help to increase training performance, by increasing endurance and strength.
When gaining muscle mass, taking anabolic steroids should be combined with systematic strength training, high-calorie nutrition. From sports nutrition , along with steroids, it is advisable to consume protein , BCAA, since they are required to build their own proteins, in addition, you can take creatine, vitamin and mineral complexes , as well as supplements for PCT.