Steroids are synthetic drugs that mimic the masculinising effects of the male sex hormone testosterone. There are many legal medical reasons to use steroids. Typical illegal users are people who feel they need to look muscular such as professional athletes and bodybuilders. Steroids’ side effects include damage to the testicles or ovaries, liver diseases, paranoia and 'roid rage' or aggression.
Testosterone is a male hormone that has anabolic and androgenic effects. The anabolic effect includes promoting bone density, the growth of muscle, and the rapid recovery from injury. The androgenic or masculinising effect is responsible for developing and maintaining all male characteristics. These include the penis, testicles, muscle mass, deep voice and facial hair.
Even though testosterone is called a male sex hormone, it occurs naturally in women as well but in much smaller amounts. There are many legitimate medical uses for steroids, such as treating osteoporosis. However, men and women users who take steroids to increase lean muscle mass.
How steroids work
Steroids work by imitating the properties of naturally occurring hormones. Muscle tissue is peppered with receptor sites specific to growth. The correct hormonal ‘key’ can only access these sites or ‘locks’. Steroids activate these receptor sites because their chemical composition is so similar to the hormone testosterone. Once the receptor sites are stimulated, a domino effect of metabolic reactions takes place as the drug instructs the body to increase muscle tissue production.
Forms of steroids
Steroids can take the form of tablets, capsules or injectable liquids, depending on the brand. Common slang terms for steroids include ‘roids’, ‘gear’ and ‘juice’.
Effects of steroids
The user generally experiences an increase in muscle strength very quickly. Muscle growth is speedier because of this heightened ability to lift heavier weights – the user can train more often and for longer periods of time because of their improved recovery rate. Increase in lean muscle mass is rapid. However, fluid retention is common and the muscle tissue tends to look soft and bloated.
Dependence, tolerance and withdrawal of steroids
If a person’s positive body image depends on looking large and muscular, then giving up steroids can be extremely difficult. Some users continue to take steroids even though their health is failing. This psychological dependence can lead to depression, anger or anxiety if access to steroids is denied, if only temporarily.
Gender-related side effects of steroids
Side effects of steroid use vary depending on whether you are male or female, for instance:
• for men – testicle and penis shrinkage, reduced sperm count, impotence, prostate problems, gynaecomastia (breast development) and baldness
• for women – loss of the menstrual cycle (amenorrhea), shrunken breasts, deepened voice, facial and body hair, and abnormal growth of the clitoris.
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