Steroid Side Effects and How to Stop them – Part 1
This chapter, along with the chapter on the proper use of ancillary medications, are two of the most important chapters in this book. Why? Because AAS have side effects, and long-term use of AAS can have a profound effect on longevity and overall quality of life in later years if preventative measures are not taken. Having used steroids myself for over 10 years now, I have suffered through virtually ever side effect listed in this chapter, and have consequently educated myself on how to avoid them.
Regardless of your age, it’s important to always bear in mind that the use of AAS for the purposes of gaining an edge in sport can be an inherently unhealthy endeavor. There is a distinct difference between the doses of hormones or drugs that are used in slowing the aging process through hormone replacement therapy (hereafter referred to as HRT, please see the chapter on HRT by Dr. Ramon Scruggs for further clarification) and those that are used to enhance performance. If one is to properly use performance enhancing drugs, it is vital that they know the potential side effects of drugs they are using, know how to combat these side effects, and most importantly, actually implement the knowledge they have. Time and time again I’ve seen a bodybuilder develop gynecomastia (commonly referred to as “bitch tits” in the bodybuilding vernacular) despite the fact that the individual in question knew this was a possibility and also knew the preventative measures to take. One should not engage in the use of AAS or any other performance enhancing drug if the maintenance of proper health is not of primary concern.
Compounding the problem of treating the side effects of AAS is the hysteria surrounding their use in the first place. Many bodybuilders that use steroids find themselves to be social pariahs, muscular misfits if you will, and end up finding comfort in the company of others that engage in steroid use as well. Because a bodybuilder wears his sport, he’s branded a steroid user by many regardless of whether that’s the case or not. Often times, the shame one feels regarding their steroid use will cause them to suffer through the side effects associated with their use, rather than seeking competent medical help. Truth be told, it’s very difficult to find competent medical help to treat the side effects of steroids, as most doctors simply have no idea how to properly do so. More often than not, the physicians I worked with for most of my years on steroids were completely clueless as to how one might ameliorate the negative side effects of these drugs, and would simply tell me to “get off the steroids”. I say this not to dissuade those of you reading this from seeking out the advice of a doctor regarding the side effects of steroid use, just to prepare you for a probable response.
Most of the side effects related to steroids are cosmetic and will disappear when one discontinues their use. But those that aren’t are the most important to understand and treat as necessary. Most of these cannot be seen or felt, and all are related to issues of cardiovascular health. Steroids can adversely affect cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and hypertension, which over time can and will lead to an increase in heart disease. Always monitor your resting hear rate and blood pressure on a weekly basis when taking steroids and have your cholesterol and triglycerides checked every six months if you are using steroid consistently. These are not problems you can live with, ignore them and you may very well die much earlier than you would have otherwise. Ask yourself this question: “How much is every year of my life worth to me?” If you ignore the potential for an increased risk of heart disease when using anabolic steroids, you are essentially answering the question with, “Very little indeed.”
Before we begin a look at the actual side effects themselves and how to treat them, it’s important to note that not all AAS are created equal!! At times, for the sake of brevity, I will lump all AAS together, but the fact remains that some steroids will cause more negative side effects than others. One of the points of this book is to allow you to make that distinction, and walk away with the knowledge of how to use them as safely as possible. Below is a list of steroids most commonly associated with the side effects listed in this chapter:
Testosterone and its various esters
Unfortunately for us, these also happen to be most of THE most effective AAS (with the exception of Halotestin) for building LBM. Generally, the maxim that the more effective a steroid is the more side effects it has holds true.
Finally, before we begin, readers will notice that I do not advocate the use of estrogen blockers such as Nolvadex, Clomid (I do post cycle, but not for the purposes of estrogen suppression), or Proviron. With anti-aromatases like arimidex (anastrazole), femara (letrozole), and to a lesser extent Cytadren (aminoglutethiamide) becoming cheaper and more readily available, use of estrogen blockers should be relegated to the bodybuilding archives. For a complete explanation as to why, read the chapter Proper Use of Ancillary Medications Both On and Off Cycle.
AAS Side Effects
Acne: One of the primary indicators of steroid use is acne, and I’m sure many of you reading this have either experienced acne caused by steroids or have seen someone who has. Like all steroid side effects, the degree to which someone will suffer from acne varies from individual to individual. The more androgenic a compound is, the more profound effect it will have on increasing oil production in the skin via stimulation of the sebaceous glands. Having said that, I’ve seen individuals use incredibly androgenic stacks and never have a hint or a pimple or blemish, and I’ve seen athletes (especially women) use very mild anabolics and suffer from horrible acne.
Treating acne is very important, both for physical and psychological reasons. Untreated acne can cause permanent scarring of the skin if it becomes severe enough, resulting in a pockmarked area that can only be smoothed through expensive plastic surgery. And acne can have a very powerful negative psychological effect on someone suffering from it, branding someone a steroid user and further isolating them from “normal” society. Severe acne can and will detract from the most aesthetic of physiques, and take away from ones overall presentation.
Depending on the severity, there are several options for the treatment of acne. Since acne is generally caused by the more androgenic steroids, there is always the option of switching to steroids that have few androgenic properties, such as nandrolone, oxandrolone, or primobolan. Light cases can commonly be controlled through frequent washings of the effected area (to remove excess dirt and oil before pores become clogged and infected) and the use of over the counter topical treatments. Moderate cases will generally respond to the use of Retin-A coupled with use of an antibiotic (such as tetracycline) which kills the bacteria which feeds off the oil created by the sebaceous gland. Severe cases of acne should be treated with Accutane, a prescription drug manufactured by Roche that is very effective at permanently eliminating acne. Accutane has a host of unpleasant side effects itself, and treatments are both lengthy and costly (health insurance is a must), but its use is much better than the possibility of permanent scarring from cystic acne. Fortunately, while acne is one of the most commonly seen side effects, it’s also the easiest to treat, as competent Dermatologists can easily be found.
It should also be noted that acne commonly become an issue for bodybuilders that do not cycle off steroids correctly, which will often cause a severe imbalance between levels of androgens and estrogens. Preparation for your off cycle period is equally important as the time spent on steroids, so use of an anti-aromatase both on and immediately following a cycle containing AAS that can convert to estrogen is a must.
Aggression: Men, due to their higher natural production of testosterone, are generally more aggressive than women. AAS, especially those that are extremely androgenic, will further increase aggression in both males and females. This can be beneficial as long as the individual in question can focus the aggression appropriately, such as the lifting of heavier weights during training. There often seems to be a direct correlation between ones ability to control aggression and ones intelligence.
There is nothing worse than an out of control steroid user who is unable or unwilling to control their aggression. Before beginning a cycle of AAS, especially one containing strong androgens, you must prepare yourself mentally for the fact that you are in all likelihood going to be more aggressive than normal, and consequently take the time to assess the nature of your reactions while using them.