Adverse Effects of Anabolic Steroid Abuse vs. Benefits of Physician- Supervised Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Due to an increase in media coverage of sports and athletes regarding non-medical use of anabolic steroids, the difference between hormone replacement therapy and anabolic steroids has become confusing to the general public. Young athletes illegally take synthetic male anabolic steroids without a physician’s supervision because they wish to increase their physical stamina for enhanced athletic performance. This is done through tissue building effects and an increase in male physical characteristics, desired by both male and female athletes alike. Synthetic anabolic steroids mimic the effects of the male sex hormone, testosterone, which can increase muscle mass and strength in short periods of time.
Steroids are no stranger to the fitness/bodybuilding world and competitive athletics, but today more and more “regular guys” are taking steroids in an effort to combat the effects of aging and reduce its impact. While legal steroids do have a place and serve useful, medically-valid purposes, they are frequently abused. Part of this stems from their widespread availability in gyms, health clubs, online from Internet pharmacies, friends and more.
Besides being illegal without a prescription, steroids – when taken without proper medical supervision – are known to cause a variety of health problems. The short-term adverse physical effects of anabolic steroid abuse are fairly well known, but the effects of their long-term use are not well-studied. Abuse or overuse of synthetic anabolic steroids may cause the male body to become “feminized,” causing irreversible physical and psychological damage – depending on the dosage, type of synthetic steroid being taken, and usage duration. Some examples are high blood pressure, serious changes in cholesterol levels, heart problems in the left ventricle, and liver damage if oral steroids are taken. In this sense, the difference between hormone replacement therapy and anabolic steroids has a lot to do with non-medical versus medical use, and the illegal use of a synthetic form of testosterone versus legal use of pure testosterone.
The real problems arise when steroid users become steroid abusers. They buy their steroids at the gym or from a friend, self-administering them and regulating their intake themselves, rather than under the guidance of a trained medical professional. This is a recipe for disaster. When someone buys steroids off the black market the potential for dangerous repercussions is astronomical.
First of all, when buying steroids off the black market, you never really know what you are going to get. The majority of steroids sold on the streets in the U.S. come from other countries where quality standards can be very lax at best. It’s also very common to take steroids prepared for animals rather than for humans because they are usually cheaper-but also potentially very dangerous. There is also a prevalence of fake or counterfeit steroids on the U.S. black market. These can not only be dangerous, but they can be deadly as well. The only benefit of using an anabolic steroid is when it is prescribed medically for medical conditions, the same as hormone replacement therapy. In certain medical cases, it is the only answer for quality life. The main difference between hormone replacement therapy and anabolic steroids comes down to how each is used, specifically if it is used under proper medical supervision.
There’s no getting around the fact that our bodies age. For men, as we get closer to the middle age mark, natural testosterone production in the body begins to slow down by about one to two percent each year – though this can vary widely. Around age 50 or so, about one-half of men will experience what’s known as “andropause,” which is the result of declining levels of androgen in the body. The symptoms of andropause will vary from one man to another but may include a decrease in energy (lethargy), diminished libido or less interest in sex, erectile dysfunction (ED), muscle weakness, difficulty sleeping, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings or depression and more. Because of the symptoms’ similarity to what women experience in menopause, andropause is sometimes referred to as the “male menopause,” although in men the reproductive system does not shut down entirely as it does in women – it just slows down. To fight the symptoms of andropause many men turn to either steroids or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is practiced under a physician’s care and is medically used for abnormal testosterone levels in menopausal individuals, chronic wasting diseases, and to treat a multitude of symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy also does not use a synthetic steroid, but a pure form of testosterone. It is used under physician care for many medical benefits. The goal of hormone replacement therapy is to keep abnormal hormone levels normal and to treat certain medical conditions, not to build muscles and strength. Hormone replacement therapy has been used for reductions of heart disease, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, strokes, type-2 diabetes, and early death. In fact, the use of testosterone in hormone replacement therapy has improved the lives of a many aging men. Previously they were diagnosed with no sex drive, with erectile dysfunction, extreme fatigue, irritability, a serious loss of energy, and felt their life was going nowhere.
In contrast to self-regulated/self-administered steroid abuse, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a medically supervised regimen that seeks to duplicate the body’s natural testosterone production cycles. Administered properly, HRT can bring about the benefits of restoring testosterone to its previous level, without the significant side effects or safety hazards associated with self-regulated/self-administered steroid regimens or abuse. HRT starts with a blood test and medical examination to determine testosterone levels and uncover any potential health risks. This is an important-and necessary–step in order to be certain that testosterone deficiency is indeed the root of the andropause symptoms and not diabetes, hypertension or the result of taking certain medications.
Through HRT testosterone is administered orally, by injection or through trans-dermal systems (through the skin). A fourth method-a tablet that adheres to the surface of the gum-was recently approved by the FDA. HRT has proven beneficial to men suffering from symptoms of andropause resulting from a testosterone deficiency in a number of ways including:
Increasing sex drive
Increasing muscle mass
Increasing bone density
These are just some of the benefits that are associated with a properly-administered, medically-supervised HRT regimen. Once treatment begins, HRT recipients are monitored for possible side effects or adverse reactions to the treatment. Generally though, this is not the case. The overwhelming majority of HRT recipients are very satisfied with the results, generally reporting few, if any, negative side effects or consequences. While many of us like to think that we’re smart guys and know what we’re doing with our own bodies, the risks associated with self-administered/self-regulated steroid regimens far outweigh any potential benefits. And in addition, the potential for abuse is great. If you think you may be suffering from andropause/testosterone deficiency, do yourself a favor and consult a qualified medical professional and investigate hormone replacement therapy as a treatment, not your friends at the gym.