Andrew Jagim, Ph.D, CSCS
Juice, roids, gym candy, pumpers and stackers are all common nicknames for substances more technically referred to as anabolic-androgenic steroids. Anabolic steroids are defined as any type of exogenous drug that mimics the effects of testosterone in the body. Most people take them with the goal of increasing muscle mass, improving performance or enhancing physical appearance. It is estimated that as many as 3 million Americans have used non-medicinal anabolic androgenic steroids. It is difficult to get exact numbers and figures on the prevalence of steroid use in today’s world because of legislature that was passed in 1990 classifying steroids as illegal substances. Steroids were originally banned because congress felt they were ruining the integrity of athletic competition. However, research has shown that the majority of anabolic steroid users are actually non-athletes. In fact, a recent study estimated that 90% of steroid users do not claim sports as a motivator for use. The typical steroid user is a middle aged male weightlifter, who is somewhat of a weekend warrior but basically just wants to look better in the mirror.
There are many different kinds of anabolic-androgenic steroids available. Some of them are injected directly into the muscle, others come in pill form, and some can even be administered through a patch. Unfortunately, more often than not, multiple kinds of steroids are taken together which is commonly referred to as “stacking.” However, users can often get into trouble by combining multiple substances since the effects of these substances taken together are unknown.
Anabolic steroid use has been shown to increase strength and muscle mass while at the same time decreasing fat mass, which is part of what makes them so enticing. However, the side-effects and safety of these agents is another issue; as the list of possible health risks is endless. Some of the main categories of side-effects include adverse cardiac, metabolic, reproductive, skin, and psychological effects. Side effects affecting the cardiovascular system include increases in blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol, and risk of blood clots. Each of these can worsen one’s chance of suffering a stroke or heart attack. Long-term steroid use in males has been associated with testicular atrophy, infertility and gynecomastia (the development of breasts). In females, steroid use seems to have a “masculinizing” effect, resulting in the development of male characteristics, such as a deepening of the voice, onset of facial hair, and baldness. Steroid users often report problems with skin acne and lesions as well. Another common side-effect of steroid use is the psychological issues that occur. For example, a lot of steroid users often report mood swings or increases in aggressive behavior, commonly referred to as “Roid Rage.” These are just a few of the known negative side effects of steroid use; the list goes on and on. Many physicians actually claim that low levels of anabolic steroids are relatively safe to consume, but many users have a “more is better” mentality and will take dangerously high amounts while combining multiple formulations together. This strategy can be very dangerous and is a major reason steroid use gets such a bad reputation. So if you’re considering taking steroids with the idea of getting bigger, stronger or faster, you must first ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
For Further Reading:
- Cohen, J., Collins, R., Darkes, J., and Gwartney, D. (2007). A league of their own: demographics, motivations and patterns of use of 1,955 male adult non-medical anabolic steroid users in the United States. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 4 (12). http://www.jissn.com/content/4/1/12
- Maravelias, C., Dona, A., Stefanidou, M., and Spiliopoulou, C. (2005). Adverse effects of anabolic steroids in athletes: A constant threat. Toxicology letters. 158. 167-175. http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0378427405001700/1-s2.0-S0378427405001700-main.pdf?_tid=403f324e-f714-11e3-a98c-00000aab0f27&acdnat=1403115390_c5ca1c26d6910cd5ebd160b58173dd0d