Energy Management 4 MIN READ

Understanding Metabolism & Anabolic Steroid Abuse

One usually hears of testosterone in the context of men doing things that are conventionally deemed “manly”. What many do not know is that testosterone is a naturally occurring sex hormone in both men and women and has a wide range of functions. 

Written by Hisham Syed

Sep 19, 2022
Anabolic Steroid Abuse

One usually hears of testosterone in the context of men doing things that are conventionally deemed “manly”. What many do not know is that testosterone is a naturally occurring sex hormone in both men and women and has a wide range of functions. 

What are anabolic steroids? 

Testosterone is required to develop and maintain characteristics primarily present in male individuals. In women, testosterone is present in smaller amounts but helps with the growth, maintenance, and repair of their reproductive tissues, bone mass, and behaviours in conjunction with estrogen, the female sex hormone. 

Synthetic, man-made versions of testosterone are also available, should the need arise. Anabolic steroids are one such option. They mimic testosterone. According to the NHS, they have manufactured drugs that serve almost the same purpose as testosterone. However, their medical use is limited, and they shouldn’t be confused with corticosteroids, a different type of steroid drug commonly prescribed for lowering inflammation in the body.

Anabolism is the process of metabolism that revolves around growth and building. Anabolic steroids help build muscle tissue and amp up body mass. Catabolism is the breaking down of compounds for the release of energy. Conversely, anabolism is the building of compounds, which requires an input of energy. 

Uses of anabolic steroids

Healthcare providers use anabolic steroids to treat a variety of hormone problems in men such as delayed puberty and muscle loss from certain diseases, among others. At times, it is even prescribed to women with low testosterone levels. Testosterone therapy, in which anabolic steroids are used, is considered a cornerstone of medical treatment for transgender men, who opt for it to produce masculinisation and suppress estrogen and progesterone levels. However, the risk of people misusing anabolic steroids remains prevalent.

Why do people misuse them?

Athletes and competitive bodybuilders are most likely to misuse anabolic steroids, primarily to enhance their athletic abilities. Since it is legal to possess and use the drug for personal use and can be easily bought from a pharmacy against a prescription, instances of misuse remain common. 

The steroid can be consumed orally, injected into the muscle, or applied to the skin via a gel or cream. While these performance-enhancing drugs can increase muscle mass and decrease fat, they also come with a number of undesired side effects, from a reduced sperm count to acne and stomach ache in men and development of male characteristics like a deeper voice and growth of facial and body hair in women. 

Illicitly created steroids, known as “designer steroids”,  are used by some athletes to pass doping tests. Since their use is illegal in sports, athletes often find workarounds to make sure they go undetected. The biggest concern around the usage of designer steroids is a lack of regulation of some of their components, leading to various health risks. Due to their illegal nature, most athletes tend to learn about them from other athletes and the internet, making the information inaccurate or untrustworthy. 

Side Effects

The use of anabolic steroids have numerous side effects: 


According to findings of a study presented at the 52nd European Association for the Study of Diabetes Annual Meeting, men who abuse or have abused anabolic androgenic steroids have lower insulin sensitivity and more visceral fat than controls, plausibly due to long-term natriuretic peptide deficiency. 

Cardiovascular System

High blood pressure, heart attacks, artery damage, strokes, clogged arteries, disruption of blood flow, clots, and damage to the heart muscles have been associated with steroid use.


Steroids misuse can cause variations in the hormone production in the body and cause hypogonadism (a condition where the sex glands or gonads produce little or no sex hormones), low testosterone levels, shrinking of the testicles, and a decrease in sperm production. Some irreversible changes include the development of breasts in men and male pattern balding. It can also have a substantial risk factor in certain cancers such as testicular cancer. In women, the misuse of steroids can cause a reduction in breast size, decrease in body fat, development of masculine features, a deep voice, coarse skin, body hair growth, and scalp hair loss. 


Steroid misuse has been associated with liver damage and tumours. Some conditions such as peliosis hepatitis are also reported, where cysts are formed in the liver, rupturing of which can cause internal bleeding and, in rare cases, death.

Musculoskeletal System

Artificially derived high testosterone can stop the growth of bones before they are fully developed. In bodybuilders, it can cause increased tendon injuries.


Acne and cysts are common side effects of steroid misuse on the skin.


As with many substances, steroids are addictive. Athletes could crave the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when stopped. 


Anabolic steroids, if taken without consulting your doctor, are extremely harmful. Some of them avoid full disclosure of their composition, making them very dangerous to human health. They also have a wide range of side effects and can cause death in certain situations. While they may have some uses in treating certain conditions, misusing anabolic steroids can have detrimental effects on a person’s health. 



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