RISING asks health expert Dr Emil Hodzovic why one million Brits, and many more Americans, are injecting performance-enhancing drugs in order to look good, and what it means for their long-term health…
The news that up to one million Brits are taking illicit steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, just to improve their looks, and that 94% of these are men, means 3% of all men in the UK could be juicing to get bigger muscles, and burn off their bellies. Anabolic steroid products are widely available over the internet in the UK, even though they are are a class C controlled substance.
Everyone knows performance enhancing drugs do work (otherwise, athletes wouldn’t risk bans through cheating) but are most of us really aware of their addictive potential, and the long-term side effects? Here we drill into the detail to give you the full picture, with Dr Emil Hodzovic, GP and Medical Director of Medichecks…
The Known Long-Term Health Problems Are Scary ‘Based on the known health effects of image and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs), these men are likely to find their years of quality life reduced by the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular, kidney and liver disease, which may lead to an overall reduction in life expectancy,’ says Hodzovic.
If you’re exercising and eating well in order to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, then anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) would torpedo these efforts. ‘AAS increase the levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol and causes levels of healthy HDL cholesterol to plummet. It also leads to high blood pressure.’ This can increase the risk of a whole range of health disasters, including heart attack, stroke, vascular dementia and kidney disease.
Individuals become dependent, then have low mood and anxiety when coming off drugs
It’s Easy To Become Addicted Something that is rarely discussed is the psychological effect of relying on drugs to boost your performance and physique, and what happens to your mindset when you come off them. Hodozovic says that individuals do become dependent, and have symptoms of low mood and anxiety when they come off the drugs.
‘The fear of coming off the drugs and the fact that users will feel better than 'fine' in the short term means that they are more likely to ignore warning signs and use them for longer periods. This increases the possibility of long-term side effects, and when they do occur they will be possibly greater.’
You’re Less Likely To Report Side Effects To Your Doctor So, you’ve been injecting illicit substances but now you’ve got side effects. Going to visit your registered Doctor with that? Thought not… ‘Over half of all IPED users reported not seeking help when side effects developed (55%) and waiting for symptoms to subside,’ reveals Hodzovic.
This can lead to minor ailments becoming life-changing conditions, such as diabetes, and even result in a missed cancer diagnosis, because anabolic steroids increase the risk of developing benign liver tumours, which can develop into cancer – the message is clear: seek medical help with side effects before they spiral out of control.
High-Protein Diets Make Steroid Kidney Damage Worse If you know anything about lifting weights, then you’ll be a keen consumer of protein. You may have read that gorging on protein shakes and chicken breast damages your kidneys – that’s definitely a myth, but new evidence says performance enhancing drugs do damage them. The kidney tubules that filter your blood become inflamed and stop working. ‘High protein alone does not damage the kidneys in healthy individuals, but there is emerging evidence that IPEDS can cause kidney injury both in the short and long term,’ says Hodzovic.
Catch this injury early and it can be reversed, if steroid use and protein supplements are stopped. Ignore it and your kidneys can become scarred, permanently reducing their function and leading to disease. ‘Until recently it was thought that high blood pressure (a known side effect of IPED use) was the main mechanism for kidney damage. However, new literature suggests that IPEDs can cause direct damage, and in the context of kidney injury, high protein diets may cause further issues.’
Users Are Guinea Pigs In A Massive Experiment More people are taking performance-enhancing drugs at higher doses and for longer than ever before, and combining them with other drugs to counter side effects. This means we’re in uncharted territory. No one knows what other long-term effects these dosages and drug combinations may have, but given the known side-effects, the news is unlikely to be good.
‘There is the potential for a health crisis among both male and female users of performance-enhancing drugs, and although it is likely to be years down the line when this will manifest, there is a growing problem even now, as more and more people experiment with drugs,’ Hodzovic warns.
Steroids Can Destroy Your Looks And Your Fertility Ironically, taking anabolic steroids to improve your looks can end up destroying them with permanent acne, hair loss and even permanent ‘moobs’. ‘There’s a risk that in male steroid users the high levels of testosterone can also lead to high levels of oestradiol. If this is not detected then they can start to develop breast tissue, leading to gynaecomastia, also known as ‘moobs’. This change is often permanent and requires surgery to correct.’
And even if your newly ripped body does attract a sexual partner then the most commonly reported side effect of anabolic steroid use is shrinking of the testicles and for many a decrease in sex drive, as the production of natural testosterone nosedives. This can also reduce or even wipe out your sperm count.
6 week abs’ or ‘30-day beach body’ are highly unrealistic even if plans are followed perfectly
Setting Unrealistic Goals Feeds Into Steroid Use Ever decided to get ripped in time for your summer beach holiday? In late Spring? Yeah, you’re setting yourself up for temptation there, and the media won’t help. ‘The media often pushes rapid results in the form of ‘6 week abs’ or ‘30-day beach body’. These are often highly unrealistic goals, even if plans are followed perfectly. This means that feelings of frustration and inadequacy are magnified, even though this is a false reality.’
‘It creates a situation where it is not surprising that individuals would consider using anything to achieve their goals more quickly.’
You Can Get There Under Your Own Power – If You’re Determined No one in the medical community is denying that performance enhancing drugs work – but there is a case for saying people turn to them too easily, often as soon as they become frustrated with their training regime. ‘Often when people feel they have reached their natural potential and are doing everything they can, they are still far from it and could do more,’ says Hodzovic. ‘If you are not getting the results you’re looking for, I would recommend that you look to optimise training and nutrition first, and stick to it.’
Take a long, hard look at what you’re doing and realise that gym body transformations, in particular, require dedicating real time and effort, along with often massive lifestyle changes. Alcohol, not eating often enough, and workplace stress are all gym-regime wreckers. ‘If someone truly wants to improve, then there will always be areas that they can change to optimise further. I would recommend seeking professional fitness and nutrition advice to oversee training and nutrition.’
The Good News: Rest Is The Best Medicine The problem with many training programmes is that they’re totally focussed on the ‘doing part’ of workouts and nutrition. ‘Recovery and sleep are both hugely underestimated in life in general as well as in the context of training and exercise,’ says Hodzovic. He points out that simply using a smartphone can rob you of sleep, both with the melatonin-suppressing blue light right up until bedtime, and also by night time disturbances from notifications, vibrations and light. ‘Lack of sleep and recovery increase injury risk, make training less effective and make diets and training programs harder to stick to.’
WHAT NEXT? Feeling like your training is getting a little stale? Then find some inspiration and physique-boosting info in our New A-Z Of Strength Training.
Medichecks offers bespoke medical health screening and is the UK’s largest online blood testing service
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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