Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced drugs which mimic the muscle-building effects of the male hormone testosterone. However, long-term use of these substances may eventually take a toll on the heart, researchers say.
Bodybuilders who take these drugs to bulk up should take note: prolonged use of anabolic steroids makes it harder for the heart to function properly. The steroids might also contribute to artery-clogging, study findings showed.
Availability of steroids
According to a Health24 article anabolic steroids are easily available in the gym once you've found a seller.
The black market is booming and there are online sales – for every one real supplier, 10 are a hoax.
"It is critical that clinicians become aware of the long-term risks of anabolic steroid use on the heart," said Dr Harrison Pope Jr., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and co-lead author of the study.
Lower heart-pumping capacity
Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the male hormone testosterone. An estimated 2.9 to 4 million Americans have used these drugs, and about one million are dependent on the pills or injections, the researchers said.
For the new study which was published in the journal Circulation, Pope and his colleagues tracked 140 male weight-lifters. 86 had used anabolic steroids and 54 hadn't. Of the steroid users, 28 had discontinued them before the evaluations.
Ultrasound scans enabled the investigators to determine that the hearts of the steroid users were weaker. Current users had lower heart-pumping capacity than those who had stopped using them, the findings showed.
According to the report, seven out of 10 current steroid users had a low pumping capacity (less than 52%). In contrast, those who had stopped using steroids or never used them had normal pumping capacity for the most part.
No cause-and-effect relationship
While the findings don't prove that steroids harm the heart, they suggest there may be cause for concern.
"Most people relate anabolic steroids to cheating among athletes and fail to realise that there is a large population of men who have developed dependence upon these drugs, but who are not readily visible," Pope said in a journal news release. "The oldest members of this population are only now reaching middle age."
The researchers also noted that anabolic steroid use was tied to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels – both risk factors for heart disease.
Previous research has found that adolescent boys who were concerned about muscularity used steroids or growth hormones – and were more likely to start binge drinking and use drugs.
In a 2014 article, 5% of 12 000 boys surveyed at 23 KwaZulu-Natal schools in 2013 admitted to using steroids. The researchers concluded that in high schools up to 10% of boys use these drugs for purposes of “bulking up”, while their coaches, teachers, parents and school principles turn a blind eye.
Study co-lead author Dr Aaron Baggish, said, "Compared to non-users, anabolic steroid users displayed both higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as a higher prevalence of levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in their blood."
Baggish is associate director of the cardiovascular performance programme at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"This finding places illicit anabolic steroid use on the list of factors clinicians should consider when caring for men with premature disease of the coronary arteries," Baggish concluded.
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