We The Brave: Steroids

Steroids: The Lowdown

Taking “T”, getting “geared” or going on the “juice”- more young men (and some women) are choosing to take illegal courses of anabolic steroids for the dramatic results it has on their physiques. It will make you look more buff with a lot less effort, but there may be severe consequences you should know about, like eruptive back acne and “man-boobs”, which may be just the icing on the proverbial chemical beefcake.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic testosterone. Testosterone is what revs men’s engines and cranks up their “get up and go”. Without testosterone, men become far less motivated, and their bodies begin to lose muscle definition and gain fat around the waist. Low testosterone can result in depression and anxiety and can have a ripple effect on many aspects a man’s life and well-being.

To put it into context: Olympian athlete Caster Semenya was born with a natural ability to produce much higher levels of testosterone in her body than the other female athletes she competes with (a condition is known as hyperandrogenism), and this has sparked controversy. These higher levels of testosterone are believed to be what makes her so fast and unstoppable, which some of her competitors see as being an unfair advantage. Because she has more testosterone in her system, she can develop more muscle, stamina and strength than women who have less of the hormone, and this has made her even more formidable on the track.

Many doctors treat HIV-positive men with testosterone (hormone replacement therapy) when they need it, with good results, but the catch is that once you start supplementing the body with testosterone, the brain registers the increase of the hormone and tells the body to shut down any further production of testosterone. So, if you supplement it your body stops making its own, and this can affect your body’s ability to produce the hormone for the rest of your life.

Usually, when we imagine someone on steroids, we think of a bulky big man in a G-string under layers of self-tan flexing for his life with bulging veins on his neck and face threatening to burst. But the reality is that steroids are no longer exclusive to the bodybuilding fraternities. In fact, the vast majority of steroid users are the everyday sort of guy that doesn’t compete in fitness competitions at all. It’s merely someone who wants to look more athletic and manly.

Steroids can be dangerous because they work. If you take a course of steroids you will get dramatic results, but the problem is that many of the steroids are illegal and so many are derived from rather dodgy sources, like horses and other animals, and this is when you start gambling. Hormones created for a large herbivorous mammal are not necessarily going to be optimum for a human being.

The true risks of indiscriminate steroid use are still undefined. Testosterone can be taken orally, or it can be injected intramuscularly, and if needles are used there can be a risk of HIV infection, if needles are shared. Many people are of the opinion that steroid use is relatively safe, but previous Mr Universe and Mr America, Steve Michalik, now deceased, felt differently. He was very outspoken about his steroid use during the 70s and 80s and believed that it had nearly killed him on many occasions (he died in 2012 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound). Despite maintaining an insanely disciplined diet and exercise regime and being a non-drinker and non-smoker his entire life, he suffered heart attacks, stroke, heart bypass surgery for atherosclerosis, liver tumours and pancreatitis. “All my organs began to shut down, one by one”, he reported. Steve is one of a growing number ex-steroid users who have come forward to attest to how steroid use has negatively affected their lives.

Here in Jo’burg, I chatted to a buddy who was happy to share his experience of using steroids for two years with me. He said he experienced great results during the two-year stint and that he and his partner would inject themselves on average once a week. They practised a form of steroid use known as cycling. This technique involves using steroids for a while and then stopping for a chunk of time to give the body an opportunity to try and produce its natural testosterone again. It can also involve going on courses of different types of steroids. It cost him approximately R1500 per month, and he says that it is very easy to get hold of someone who will sell it to you (at most gyms), which was a bit alarming. He is no longer taking the steroids and reported that for a while since, he experienced a bit of a slump into depression and a lowering of energy and motivation after he stopped using the hormone supplement. He describes the whole experience as being “anticlimactic”.

Using anabolic steroids without a prescription is illegal for a reason and when you consider some of the side-effects you can begin to see why: You can develop breast tissue (gynecomastia), your testicles can shrink, and you may experience painful erections. You can also become infertile or impotent – good times! Other possible conditions include severe acne, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), going bald, heart attacks, enlarged heart, liver disease and liver cancer, mood swings, aggression, depression and even delusional behaviour. Sign me up! Not. Steve Michalik once suffered from such bad “roid rage” that he threw some of the members of his gym through a plate-glass window because he believed they were draining his energy by watching him train. Must’ve been a cuddly fellow.

I would love to have all eyes on me donning a ‘mankini’ on Clifton 3rd as I flex a glute Johnny Bravo style, but when I look at the possible consequences of spiking up my man hormone, it just doesn’t seem all that appealing to me anymore. I don’t like the idea of gambling with my body’s ability to make testosterone and perhaps having to inject it for the rest of my life if my ‘mansack’ decided to shut down shop.

Alternatively, I have heard that High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Intermittent Fasting (IF) and natural supplements like Tongkat Ali and Tribulus Terrestris can help you up your testosterone in a way that probably won’t cause your ‘manplums’ to go into early retirement. Google it. I would suggest chatting with your doctor about taking these supplements first if you are on any medication, though. I’m going to try the natural route first and avoid plastics and processed foods that can be estrogenic, which also cause a drop in testosterone for men. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to put my Muscle-Mary aspirations on hold for a while longer because injections and side-effects considered, I don’t think being buff should have to be such a pain in the literal ass.

Bruce J. Little is a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova Health Institute and affiliates.