Performance Enhancing Drugs – Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids
Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) is the technical name for what most people familiarly call anabolic steroids, or just steroids. Steroids are synthetic variations of testosterone, one of the male sex hormones. The term anabolic refers to way steroids promote the growth of muscle mass, while androgenic refers to the increase in male secondary sexual characteristics that result from taking steroids.
The ability of steroids to promote muscle growth and repair has made these drugs popular with athletes and body builders looking for artificial ways to enhance their performance and appearance. Steroids remain the most common kind of performance enhancing drug (PED) detected by sports governing bodies; however, it is unclear whether these figures indicate that steroids are the most popular kind of PED among athletes, or whether it is just one of the more easily detected substances.
Steroid Use and Users
There are two varieties of anabolic-androgenic steroids: exogenous and endogenous. Endogenous steroids are naturally produced by a healthy body, while exogenous steroids cannot be produced in the body. Banned use of exogenous steroids is relatively simple for modern drug tests to detect, while endogenous use can be more complicated to detect due to the simultaneous presence of the natural substance.
Steroids can be taken orally, applied as a cream or gel, or injected directly into the muscles. The vast majority of steroid users self-inject steroids, putting them at risk for blood-bourn pathogens if they do not take the proper precautions for the use and disposal of needles.
Steroids work by passing through cell membranes and attaching to androgen, or sex hormone, receptors. Steroids are then able to alter gene expression, and direct actions such as the increase of protein production or the blocking of stress hormone effects that make it more difficult for muscles to recover after exertion. Steroids can also improve basal metabolic rates and limit the number of cells that are designated for fat storage.
Detecting Steroid Use
For many years, the detection of endogenous steroids in the body posed difficulties to anti-doping officials. In the past two decades, scientists have developed tests that are able to reliably distinguish between naturally occurring endogenous steroids and artificial varieties of the same substance.
A 2006 study by the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center revealed that over three quarters of a surveyed group of 500 steroid users were non-athletes or non-competitive bodybuilders. Steroids are one of the few performance enhancing drugs that promote noticeable and significant changes to the body, creating an appeal that extends to purely recreational users. With regular drug screening now standard at many athletic competitions, and reliable tests for steroids in existence, steroids may be on their way to becoming purely recreational drugs.
Risks of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Use
For athletes who compete under regulations that prohibit performance-enhancing drugs, the competitive risks for drug use are universal. Steroid use is banned by almost all international sporting organizations, and athletes who are caught are banned from competition, and may suffer a partial or total loss of livelihood as a result. Many sports will also strip athletes of any honors and competitions that they won with the assistance of a banned substance.
The use of any illegal drug to improve athletic performance can have even more serious results, including prison sentences or other harsh penal measures. Anabolic steroids are Schedule III controlled substances in the United States, which means possession or distribution of steroids can result in prison sentences of up to 10 years.
Steroid use can result in increased male characteristics on the part of female users, and decreased male characteristics for men. For example, women may grow additional body hair and develop a deeper voice, while men may develop breasts, suffer from shrunken testicles, and become infertile. Both men and women who take steroids are also more likely to develop male-pattern baldness. More severe risks connected with steroid use include an increased likelihood of testicular or prostate cancer for men, or stunted growth in adolescents.
If you are a young athlete hoping to emulate one of your heroes, whether or not that hero of yours has taken or is suspected of having taken performance-enhancing drugs, please take the time to read this article before making what could be one of the most important decisions of your life.