Anabolic Steroids: Basics Explained

From two Tokyo Olympians being banned to Noida Police seizing fake drugs and supplements worth Rs 2 crore, anabolic steroids have often been in news, although not for the right reasons.


Steroids, also called corticosteroids, are anti-inflammatory medicines used to treat a range of conditions. Steroids are a man-made version of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands which are 2 small glands found above the kidneys; to fight stress associated with illnesses and injuries. They reduce inflammation and affect the immune system. Steroids work like the hormone cortisol, which your adrenal glands make; Cortisol keeps your immune system from making substances that cause inflammation. Steroids also reduce the activity of the immune system, which is the body’s natural defence against illness and infection.

This can help treat autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, which are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body.

Anabolic steroids are essentially lab-made versions of the male hormone testosterone and have a similar effect of increasing muscle mass as the natural hormone does. It also increases male characteristics in a person, such as facial hair and a deeper voice.

A doctor can legally prescribe them if your body doesn’t make enough testosterone. An example would be boys with delayed puberty. Doctors also prescribe them to men with low testosterone and people who lose muscle mass because of cancer, AIDS, and other health conditions. Their performance- and muscle-boosting powers have led to widespread misuse and abuse.

When taken in doses higher than the amount your body normally produces, steroids reduce redness and swelling (inflammation). This can help with inflammatory conditions such as asthma and eczema.

More than being a drug prescribed by doctors, anabolic steroids are usually used by bodybuilders; mainly misused by athletes and sportspersons nowadays. Anabolic steroids have a very limited medical role and are mainly used by doctors to help patients gain weight after a severe illness or injury. It could also be prescribed in small doses to the elderly to build muscle mass and in some cases also helps to treat anaemia.

The use of anabolic steroids in the short term can cause acne and hair fall. Extended misuse of the substance can also lead to gynecomastia (growth of breasts in men) and erectile dysfunction.

In women, it can lead to the growth of facial hair. It may also cause extreme anger, paranoia, and impaired judgement. Long-term use can lead to kidney disease and even failure, liver damage and tumours, enlarged heart, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to stunted growth in teenagers.

Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They travel in your bloodstream to tissues or organs. They work slowly, over time, and affect many different processes, including:

Growth and development; Metabolism – how your body gets energy from the foods you eat; Sexual function; Reproduction; Mood

Endocrine glands, which are special groups of cells, make hormones. The major endocrine glands are the pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenal glands, and pancreas. In addition, men produce hormones in their testes and women produce them in their ovaries.

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