Russian roulette

Zac Efron transformation. Note the increase in muscle mass, body fat percentage reduction and visible abdominal definition.

Bikini competition transformation. Note the '3D shoulders'.

This post has been brewing for a while. The more I learn about weightlifting, the more I realise that steroid use and abuse is surprisingly common.

Debate for and against the use of steroids has been going on for some time.

In this blog I will explore why I am against the use of steroids..

What are anabolic steroids?

Anabolic steroids are a synthetic group of  hormones characterised by male sex hormones such as testosterone and DHT. They have an androgenic 'increases masculinity' and anabolic 'growth stimulation component'.

Why people choose to take steroids

People take steroids for a variety of reasons:

  • Increase strength

  • Increase muscle mass (especially upper body) creating a V shape appearance

  • Reduce body fat percentages (typically to achieve <10% in men and <14% in females)

  • Attract men or women. NB I feel this pressure is greater for guys. Guys are expected to be 'big' and have a muscular physique whilst girls are expected to be slim

  • Improve confidence by feeling better about their physique. 

Legality of steroid use

Anabolic steroids are controlled as Class C substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. There is no possession offence but it is illegal to manufacture, supply or possess/import/export steroids with the intent to supply, without a licence to do so.

How steroids are taken

They are usually taken in 'cycles' i.e. 6 weeks on 6 weeks off. People taking steroids will usually increase load and volume of weight during the steroid cycle to maximise output.

Steroids are usually taken by intramuscular injections or orally.

Types of anabolic steroids

Men typically use anabolic steroids with a greater androgenic ratio whilst females opt for lower androgenic ratios (such as testosterone).

The ratio of androgenic to anabolic ratio of steroid chosen will depend on goal desired:

  • Increase in strength: Testosterone Mixture (Omnadren), Boldenone-Undecylenate (Equipoise)

  • Increase in muscle mass: Oxymetholone (Anadrol)

  • Reduction in body fat: Fluoxymesterone (Halotestin)

Steroids typically used by females include Anavar (oxandrolone), Winstrol (stanozolol) and Clenbuterol. Only a small dose is required for females to gain muscle mass and reduce body fat.

Sometimes different steroids are taken at the same time (known as stacking). Pyramiding is a term used to describe the gradual change of dose.

How to tell if someone is taking steroids

This can be difficult, especially to the untrained eye. The following indicates that someone may be taking steroids:

  • Rapid physique progression: achieving the 'perfect' physique takes at least 2 if not 5 years to achieve. Someone who's physique or strength improves dramatically in a short space in time such as 6 months or a year is probably taking steroids

  • Muscular size does not match load/volume lifted (consistently): You cannot make this judgment based on a few workouts. A person may be in a 'deload' week or taking it easy because of fatigue/injury. But, the only way to improve strength and increase muscle mass naturally is by lifting heavy shit consistently whilst eating more.

  • Super low body fat percentage i.e. <10% in men, <14% in woman (veins 'popping'):  Body fat percentages below these levels are mostly impossible to achieve naturally as the body will react the same way as an anorexic body does. The body goes into 'fight mode', stops the production of important body functions (such as hormones for periods, testosterone in men) and retains fat.

  • 3D 'boulder shoulders': prominent and bulging anterior deltoids. Difficult to achieve in men and almost impossible to achieve naturally in women.

Why I am against the use of steroids in athletes

Irrespective of what your exercise/ weightlifting goals are, your long term health should be at the forefront of all activities undertaken.

It might be great looking buff AF in your 20s because of steroid use, but what is the point if you have a heart attack at the age of 40, or ruin your shoulder joints so you can't even carry a bag of shopping?

Most people struggle to understand the consequence of actions that may affect them in the distant future.

For example a smoker in their teens/20s is young, fit and healthy. It can be difficult for them to appreciate that they may develop lung cancer or COPD at the age of 60 as a direct consequence of their current smoking habits. This is related to 'neuroplasticity'. Google the term if you are interested in learning more.

Yes, steroids may increase your strength, muscle mass, and reduce your body fat in short period of time, but just as smoking increases the risk of developing health complication, by taking steroids you are also increasing the risk of developing serious and life threatening health complications. 

Complications include:

  • High blood pressure, and plaque in arteries 'atherosclerosis'. Both increase the risk of having a heart attack 'myocardial infarction' at a much younger age

  • An enlarged weak heart that cannot pump blood around the body effectively i.e. 'cardiomyopathy' and 'heart failure'.

Nb- the above can result in life threatening consequences- including death.

  • Cancer- i.e. hepatocellular and renal carcinoma (liver  and kidneys  cancer)

  • Diabetes- which also causes organ failure (including kidney failure and blindness), heart attacks microvascular dementia etc

  • Sexual dysfunction (including impotence and infertility) and prostate complications

  • Mental health disorders including delusions, psychosis and agression

  • Weak, thin, muscle and skin which is prone to damage and infection. Particularly the skin ages much quicker

  • Weakened immune system, increased risk of serious infections and sepsis which can result in death

  • Other androgenic side effects include hair loss, change in voice, more masculine features (e.g prominent jaw etc in females), change in bone structure and gynecomastia 

  • Addiction and withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly.

The development of body dysmorphia aka 'reverse anorexia': I have come across soo many guys who believe they aren't 'big enough' when actually they're hench aka 'manz too small'.

Anorexics also perceive themselves in a similar way but they believe they are 'too fat' when actually they are dangerously underweight. Body dysmorphia can have serious consequences- particularly if a person cannot see the harm/damage they are inflicting on themselves because of their disordered perception.

This can result in excessive training and steroid use which increases the risk of injuries.

The picture below summarises the side effects of steroids

Arguments used to justify steroid use

"Joe Bloggs took steroids for 15 years but he's perfectly healthy"

Yes, Joe Bloggs may well be perfectly healthy but it doesn't mean you will be.

How a person responds to a drug/substance will vary due genetic make up and environmental exposures (e.g viruses, diet, stress, pollution etc). 

A person may be genetically predisposed to having a heart attack. I.e. their threshold for sustaining a  heart attack will be much lower when compared to someone who doesn't have a genetic predisposition.

Yes, the person with no genetic predisposition may have a heart attack (they could be overweight, sedentary, smoke and drink), whilst the person with an increased genetic risk may not (combination of luck and healthy lifestyle). A person with both genetic predisposition and increased environmental exposure will have even greater risk of having a heart attack.

By taking steroids you are increasing the risk of developing serious side effects and health complications. If you have a genetic or environmental predisposition then you are only further increasing the risk of it developing.

Risk, in this context also means you may not have a heart attack even when taking steroids, with a genetic/environmental predisposition.

Unfortunately science is not advance enough to accurately determine risk. You can have a 'rough stab' i.e your gran and uncle both had heart attacks under the age of 50, or your older sister, father and auntie all have type 2 diabetes.

In these cases it is fair to say you are at increased risk. However, genetics is so complex that even if you have no family history/ you follow a healthy lifestyle there still maybe a genetic risk (e.g mutations/hidden genes) or environmental exposures (e.g. exposed to a particular virus which increases your risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma).

This concept of 'risk' can be applied to any side effect or health condition e.g. schizophrenia, high blood pressure etc.

In some cases confirmed gene mutation may indicate an increased risk. For example Angelina Jolie carries the BRCA2 gene which hugely increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Because of this risk she chose to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. There was always a chance that she would never develop breast or ovarian cancer if she didn't have her breast, ovaries and womb removed but that wasn't a risk she was prepared to take.

Ultimately, what ever you do in life (included taking steroids) Is a risk -calculated- or not. Are you willing to do Russian roulette on your life and health by taking steroids? I most certainly am not.

"The whole anger thing is bull sh't, every other Tom/Dick and Harry becomes angry when drinking, more so than those taking steroids"

Lets be honest alcohol is a drug (albeit legal). As with any drugs there are side effects. Alcohol does indeed increase aggression, maybe more so than steroids. Does that justify taking steroids? No.

Way more people drink when compared to steroid use. You can't  accurately compare aggression in the two group without appropriate adjusting the size of the two populations to compare outcomes.

For example (nb very crude example) 20  people out 300  ppl who consume alcohol (6.6%) vs 10 out of 50 ppl (20%) display agression when taking steroids. 

Whilst more people who consume alcohol display aggression when compared to those taking steroids, the actual proportion is lower.

If you assessed aggression using the same number of people taking steroids and alcohol an estimated 60 out of 300 people would display signs of aggression when taking steroids, compared to the 20 out of 300 in those drinking alcohol.

Not that I'm pro alcohol and anti-steroids. I have been a proud Tee-Total my whole life.

Case report: Dallas MCCarver (RIP)

Dallas was a body builder destined for great things. He was predicted to be the next Olympian and trained with 'Flex' Lewis (6 x Welsh Olympian).

Dallas collapsed whilst performing and sadly passed away a short while after from a heart attack (and secondary cardiac myopathy) at the age of 26 in 2017.

It was actually filmed here (!):

Following autopsy to investigate the cause of death, the coroner concluded that steroid (and non-steroids such as growth hormone) use contributed to his cause of death. Dallas was found to have the following:

  • Enlarged heart

  • Atherosclerosis

  • Enlarged lungs

  • Enlarged liver

  • Enlarged kidneys with plaques

  • Cancer of the thyroid (although this didn't contribute to his death)

The autopsy report is shown below:

Ok, so he was a chronic user, taking multiple steroids and hormones at the same time. But this is a young life lost unnecessarily. Is it really worth the risk?.