Anabolic Androgenic Steroids

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The sex hormone testosterone stimulates muscular growth and aggressive behavior, especially in males. In Nazi Germany, testosterone was given to SS troops in an effort to make them more aggressive, but with no proven success. In the 1950s, pharmaceutical companies developed compounds related to testosterone, called anabolic-androgenic30 steroids, to treat anemia, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and some mus-

Chapter 2 The Chemistry of Life 87

cle diseases, and to prevent the shrinkage of muscles in immobilized patients. By the early 1960s, athletes were using anabolic-androgenic steroids to stimulate muscle growth, accelerate the repair of tissues damaged in training or competition, and stimulate the aggressiveness needed to excel in some contact sports such as football and boxing.

The doses used by athletes, however, are 10 to 1,000 times higher than the doses prescribed for medical purposes, and they can have devastating effects on one's health. They raise cholesterol levels, which promotes fatty degeneration of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This can lead to coronary artery disease, heart and kidney failure, and stroke. Deteriorating blood circulation also sometimes results in gangrene, which may require amputation of the extremities. As the liver attempts to dispose of the high concentration of steroids, liver cancer and other liver diseases may ensue. In addition, steroids suppress the immune system, so the user is more subject to infection and cancer. They cause a premature end to bone elongation, so people who use anabolic steroids in adolescence may never attain normal adult height.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids have the same effect on the brain as natural testosterone. Thus, when steroid levels are high, the brain and pituitary gland stop producing the hormones that stimulate sperm production and testosterone secretion. In men, this leads to atrophy of the testes, impotence (inability to achieve or maintain an erection), low sperm count, and infertility. Ironically, anabolic-androgenic steroids have feminizing effects on men and masculinizing effects on women. Men may develop enlarged breasts (gynecomastia), while in some female users the breasts and uterus atrophy, the clitoris enlarges, and ovulation and menstruation become irregular. Female users may develop excessive facial and body hair and a deeper voice, and both sexes show an increased tendency toward baldness.

Especially in men, steroid abuse can be linked to severe emotional disorders. The steroids themselves stimulate heightened aggressiveness and unpredictable mood swings, so the abuser may vacillate between depression and violence. It surely doesn't help matters that impotence, shrinkage of the testes, infertility, and enlargement of the breasts are so incongruous with the self-image of a male athlete who abuses steroids.

Partly because of the well documented adverse health effects, the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids has been condemned by the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine and banned by the International Olympic Committee, National Football League, and National Collegiate Athletic Association. But in spite of such warnings and bans, many athletes continue to use steroids and related performance-enhancing drugs, which remain available through unscrupulous coaches, physicians, Internet sources, and foreign mailorder suppliers. By some estimates, as many as 80% of weight lifters, 30% of college and professional athletes, and 20% of male high-school athletes now use anabolic-androgenic steroids. The National Institutes of Health finds increasing usage among high school students in recent years, and increasing denial that anabolic-androgenic steroids present a significant health hazard.

30andro = male + genic = producing

Saladin: Anatomy & I 2. The Chemistry of Life I Text I I © The McGraw-Hill

Physiology: The Unity of Companies, 2003 Form and Function, Third Edition

88 Part One Organization of the Body

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