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The effect of Anabolic steroids on the Endocrine system and the human body

Anabolic steroids are slowly becoming more and more popular for people to amplify their
bodybuilding efforts. The abuse of steroids will lead to irreparable changes to the Endocrine
system, which includes both physiological and psychological irregularities. The purpose of this
research is to determine both the short and long term effects of steroids on the Endocrine system,
and to spread awareness of the damage caused by abusing these steroids.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic variations of the male sex hormone testosterone. The proper
term for these compounds is anabolic-androgenic steroids. "Anabolic" refers to muscle building,
and "androgenic" refers to increased male sex characteristics (National institute on drug abuse,
2016). The history of anabolic steroids can be traced back to as early as 1930's, before the term
steroid was even used. In the 1930's, a team of scientists was able to create a synthetic form of
testosterone (a male hormone) to help treat men who were unable to produce enough of the
hormone for normal growth, development, and sexual functioning. Later, during World War II it
was found that this artificial form of testosterone could be used to help malnourished soldiers gain
weight and improve performance (Cesar, 2013). The use of steroids have steadily been increasing
in recent times, especially among athletes who participate in the local, national, and international
level. It has slowly become more and more prevalent, especially in through the multiple scandals
that affect even the Olympics. The question is, how do anabolic steroids affect the human body?
These steroids are injected into the body, and directly affect the endocrine system, subsequently
affecting the physical growth of the human person.

The endocrine system is a chemical messenger system consisting of hormones, the group
of glands of an organism that secrete those hormones directly into the circulatory system to be
carried towards the rest of the human body, and the feedback loops of homeostasis that the
hormones drive. In humans, the major endocrine glands include the pineal gland, pituitary gland,
pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, and adrenal glands (Elaine, 2014).
These organs regulate and stimulate the hormones that are naturally present in the human body in
order to make the body function at its most optimal level. These glands and gonads are the main
distributors and regulators of hormones in the body, in order to achieve the perfect internal
hormonal balance in the body. There are many diseases that can affect this delicate balance within
the human body. The most common diseases present in today’s society would be diabetes,
hyper/hypothyroidism, and even obesity. The introduction of anabolic steroids into this delicate
system can lead to many consequences.

The primary use of anabolic steroids is to promote weight gain and muscle development in
farm animals. They are rarely prescribed to humans (CAMH, 2013). The other purposes of using
anabolic steroids would be for helping people with diseases. Health care providers can prescribe
steroids to treat hormonal issues, such as delayed puberty. Steroids can also treat diseases that
cause muscle loss, such as cancer and AIDS. Anabolic steroids may also be prescribed in order to
stimulate hunger, to preserve muscle mass and to stimulate the production of bone marrow. Lastly,
anabolic steroids may be used in masculinizing hormone therapy for women undergoing sex
change (Moore et al. 2013).

Some people abuse these drugs for its anabolic effects that include increases in muscle
mass, the size of some internal organs, and calcium in the bones. The increases in muscle mass
can lead to increased strength for athletes, leading them to use it for increased performance in the
sports they pursue. Anabolic steroids are also being used by body builders, increasing their muscle
mass in order to better define their ideal physique. Anabolic steroids however also carry the
androgenic effect on the human body. These androgenic effects include masculinizing effects like
deepening of the voice, increased facial hair, and initial enlargement of some male sex glands
(CESAR, 2013). These anabolic steroids have long been banned in all formal competitions, and
has been restricted for public consumption in most international markets.

There are several different methods in which a person can administer an androgenic
anabolic steroid, mostly focusing on the variation of frequencies in the intake of said steroid.
Athletes typically use anabolic steroids in a “stacking” regimen, in which they administer several
different drugs simultaneously. The potency of one anabolic agent may be enhanced when
consumed simultaneously with another anabolic agent and they will use both oral and parenteral
compounds. An example of a supplementary drug would be Trenbolone, which is another type of
androgenic anabolic steroid. It is currently the most potent and versatile anabolic steroid, outside
of testosterone (Elks, 2014). Most users will take anabolic steroids in a cyclic pattern, meaning the
athletes will use the drugs for several weeks or months and alternate these cycles with periods of
discontinued use. Often the athletes will administer the drugs in a pyramid (step-up) pattern in
which dosages are steadily increased over several weeks. Towards the end of the cycle the athlete
will ‘step-down’ to reduce the likelihood of negative side effects. At this point, some athletes will
discontinue drug use or perhaps initiate another cycle of different drugs (i.e., drugs that may
increase endogenous testosterone production to prevent the undesirable drop in testosterone
concentrations that follows the removal of the pharmaceutical agents) (Hoffman, 2006).

Testosterone on its own tends to have a short metabolizing period in the human body. It is
primarily metabolized in the liver where approximately 50% of total testosterone is metabolized
(Melmed,2015). Anabolic steroids use a specially processed form of testosterone that is
specifically created to metabolize slower in the body. This prolongs the effect of the testosterone
hormone in the body in order to ensure continuous anabolic effect for the user (CAMH, 2013).

Since anabolic steroids are synthetic forms of testosterone, they will influence many of the
characteristics of gender in the person abusing the substance. In those taking doses up to 100 times
the medically-appropriate levels, many side effects caused by steroids will occur. Many of these
side effects will exaggerate the presence of testosterone in the body, leading to excessive mood
swings, balding, shrinkage of male gonads, multiple organ damage, and the like. The overdose on
testosterone can also lead to changes in the organs of the endocrine system itself. The continued
use of anabolic steroids can condition these important glands to adapt to the presence of
testosterone. Anabolic steroids may block the effects of hormones such as cortisol involved in
tissue breakdown during and after exercise. Anabolic steroids may prevent tissue from breaking
down following of an intense work-out. This would speed recovery. Cortisol and related hormones,
secreted by the adrenal cortex, also has receptor sites within skeletal muscle cells. Cortisol causes
protein breakdown and is secreted during exercise to enhance the use of proteins for fuel and to
suppress inflammation that accompanies tissue injury. Anabolic steroids may block the binding of
cortisol to its receptor sites, which would prevent muscle breakdown and enhances recovery. While
this is beneficial while the athlete is taking the drug, the effect backfires when he stops taking it.
Hormonal adaptations occur in response to the abnormal amount of male hormone present in the
athlete's body. Cortisol receptor sites and cortisol secretion from the adrenal cortex increase.
Anabolic steroid use decreases testosterone secretion. People who stop taking steroids are also
hampered with less male hormone than usual during the "off" periods. The catabolic effects of
cortisol are enhanced when the athlete stops taking the drugs and strength and muscle size are lost
at a rapid rate (Nugent, 1998).

Anabolic steroid use amongst growing teenagers can also stunt the growth, especially
during puberty. For young males, the use of these steroids can stunt their natural growth. This
seems surprising, since natural testosterone is known to increase growth. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, the problem with this additional amount of hormone in normal males is
that it accelerates puberty and speeds the maturity of the skeleton. In conjunction to this, the
increased levels of testosterone in the body signal the endocrine system to prematurely shut off the
production of testosterone, causing the foundation of skeletal growth to rely completely on the use
of anabolic steroids (Ranke et al., 1986).

Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) abuse may induce exaggerated self-confidence,

reckless behavior, aggressiveness and psychotic symptoms. AAS withdrawal may be accompanied
by depression and suicidal intentions (Nieschlag, 2015). Unlike most dependence-inducing drugs,
which typically deliver an immediate reward of intoxication, AASs produce few intoxicating
effects and are instead taken primarily for the delayed reward of increased muscle mass and
decreased body fat. Despite these differences, AAS dependence may nevertheless become a
chronic and potentially dangerous disorder (Kanayama et al., 2010). Due to the continuous
introduction of testosterone in the body, users will gradually develop suppressed testosterone
levels and may develop shrinking male gonads upon discontinuation of AAS use. Although illicit
AAS users employ various techniques to minimize hypogonadism associated with AAS
withdrawal, many will display profound hypogonadism for weeks or months after discontinuing
use. The associated symptoms of fatigue, loss of libido, and depression may prompt some users to
quickly resume using AAS to treat these dysphoric symptoms (Llewellyn, 2011).

As previously mentioned, Anabolic steroids suppress the natural functions of the endocrine
system. In order for the human body to achieve an internal balance, it will halt the production of
natural testosterone. This may lead to the permanent stop of natural testosterone hormone
production in the user. AAS may also produce direct toxic effects on the testis, which may be
irreversible, so that some AAS users will continue to display primary hypogonadism even after
hypothalamic and pituitary functions have returned to normal. The suppression of pituitary glands
due to AAS can be associated with suppression of spermatogenesis and infertility in men and
menstrual irregularity and infertility in women. (Boregowda et al., 2011).

The endocrine system contains many components that can be negatively affected by the
abuse of anabolic steroids. The anterior pituitary regulates several physiological processes
including stress, growth, reproduction and lactation. Proper functioning of the anterior pituitary
and of the organs it regulates can often be ascertained via blood tests that measure hormone levels.
With an influx of synthetic testosterone, there is a possibility for symptoms similar to that of
hypopituitarism occurring. This is characterized by decreased production of hormones in the body.
When the user halts the use anabolic steroids, the production of natural testosterone can’t keep up,
leading to decreased sperm count, libido, and irregular ovulation and menstruation.

Another component of the endocrine system that could be affected by the abuse of anabolic
steroids would be the testes, also known as the masculine gonad. The functions of the testes are to
produce both sperm and androgens, primarily testosterone. Testosterone release is controlled by
the anterior pituitary luteinizing hormone; whereas sperm production is controlled both by the
anterior pituitary follicle-stimulating hormone and gonadal testosterone. The abuse of anabolic
steroids can manifest itself through the physical shrinking of the testes. This originates from the
lack of production of semen, causing the body to shrink the testes. This likewise leads to less
production/generation of sperm, ultimately resulting in infertility (Balasubramanian, 2017).

In conclusion, the abuse of anabolic steroids in the short and long term can lead to
disruption of an internal balance maintained by the endocrine system. This internal disruption can
come in the form of shrinking gnads, stunted growth, emotional instability, developed dependence
on the drug, and many other side effects. The endocrine system’s multiple components are
sensitive towards the influx of synthetic hormones that are present in androgenic anabolic steroids.
It is sensitive to the point that anabolic steroids may cause permanent damage to the human body
if prolonged and continued.

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