With over three million Americans having used steroids, the desire to bulk up is strong. But what even happens to your body when you take steroids and are there major risks to performance-enhancing drugs?
Every time you pump a weight at the gym your muscles experience damage. But the body recovers by forming new muscle protein strands to repair the muscle fibers. Over time these strands increase in thickness and number and ultimately if muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown your muscles will grow. The degree of growth is largely regulated by testosterone, which increases protein synthesis. It’s why, generally, men have larger muscle mass than women as they have higher levels of testosterone.
Now steroids are any compound with a specific 4-carbon ring structure, so the term steroid actually includes some chemicals that can be used to treat fever and headaches and even sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. But the type of steroid we’ll be looking at actually mimic natural.
Within a single day of taking steroids, the expression of your genes will begin to change. It easily enters your cells and bind to the androgen receptor. At this point, they can move into the nucleus and attach to your DNA, which activates hundreds of genes to increase protein synthesis, while slowing protein breakdown. In the end, people who take steroids can have three to five times more nuclei in some muscle cells.
It can also stop the differentiation of fat stem cells and decrease a person’s body fat. Days in and your quickly increasing muscle size and strength, while also protecting muscle fibers against damage, making steroids ideal for exercise tolerance and recovery as well.
Continue taking it your behavior may start to change. A study of athletes taking steroids showed 20% developed higher manic and depressive scores than non-users. Male mice also become more dominant and are more willing to compete for sex with female mice.
For female users, steroids can interfere with the estrus cycle and may decrease sexual drive. Masculinization can occur as well with female users gaining deeper voices and starting to grow more body and facial hair.
Male users may experience sperm cell abnormalities and decreased sperm count. It also decreased the natural production of hormones that are necessary for maintaining testicular size, meaning your balls will shrink.
So yes, steroids will make you bulk up faster and improve your athletic ability, but as with most things, comes with a set of risks and side effects that you’ll likely experience as well.