Impact of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) Use and Abuse During Adolescence (Bone Maturation and Adult Height)
Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) are highly potent drugs, with “anabolic” meaning “to grow” and “androgenic” referring to the “development of male characteristics”.
AAS are a class of synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of the body’s naturally occurring hormone, testosterone. Derived in the body via cholesterol, testosterone functions similar to other steroid hormones.
The hormone enters body cells and attaches to receptors that cross into cell nuclei, activating protein synthesis. This leads to tissue repair and growth, making testosterone a fundamental component in the development of muscle tissue. Increasing protein synthesis can result in quicker recovery from injury and illness and faster tissue regeneration.
Steroids have long being used for medical purposes, such as following cancer or surgery involving loss of muscle tissue, male adolescents experiencing pituitary gland disorders or to help men maintain their sexual characters following a surgery involving the removal of testes (due to testicular cancer, for example).
Additionally, it is also administered to elevate testosterone production in men experiencing low testosterone levels, to inhibit estrogen production in women with reproductive or breast cancer and to help people with anemia.
Although AAS usage is linked to several potential side effects, they are usually outweighed by the benefits received when taken under a physician’s supervision.
Steroids used in treatment of medical conditions typically involve the use of only one steroid under closely monitored conditions. The doses also resemble the amount produced naturally in the body.
However, steroids that are not taken under a doctor’s care are often taken in mega doses that are 10 to 100 times more than the amount prescribed to patients with medical conditions.
Such cases usually involve taking more than one type of steroid at a time. Most steroid users receive instructions on dosages from steroid sellers or friends who use steroids – typically without any questions on the drugs’ safe dosage amounts and potential side effects.
Furthermore, the quality of steroids being sold in the black market is questionable and may only contain small amounts of a steroid. Some of these AAS drugs have been reported to contain only peanut oil or fake colored solution.
Side Effects of Anabolic Steroid Use
There are a plethora of known side effects associated with steroids use, which even include certain cancers. Unfortunately, many athletes choose to ignore all information on the ill effects of these drugs to the point of explaining that only abuse can lead to side effects. Note that any drug that can have an impact on the body’s homeostasis, can lead to negative effects in the body.
Understanding the different bodily factors can help identify the effects AAS usage can have on the body:
Effect of AAS on Height
Use of AAS among teenagers and males in their early 20s who are still growing may experience stunted bone growth, resulting in them reaching a shorter height in adulthood. This mainly occurs as a result of the early closure of the epiphyseal growth plates .
Unfortunately, many fall for the myth that AAS use will not impair growth. Teenagers and adolescents who abuse AAS are at high risk of remaining short their entire lives, not reaching their body’s natural height .
Some steroid advocates claim that only a few types of steroids are linked to poor growth, however, it has been found that over 30 different steroids can convert into estrogen – the hormone responsible for causing the generally shorter height among females compared to males.
This may seem surprising considering testosterone that is naturally produced in the body, increases growth. However, the National Institute of Drug Abuse states that additional amount of testosterone in males can actually speed up puberty, accelerating the maturity of the human skeleton .
Effect of AAS on Bones
All anabolic steroids show an ability to boost bone strength to some extent via increased collagen production, inhibited bone breakdown, increased bone mineral shortage content and enhanced bone construction .
Collagen is a construction material that holds different components of the body together and is even present interweaved in muscle tissue. It’s protein-based and constitutes major connective tissues throughout the body.
Even during low hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the effects of anabolic steroids on connective tissues and bones are quite pronounced. Therefore, anabolic steroids are widely used for medicinal purposes for osteoporosis, bone fracture and bone frailty treatments .
Research shows that extremely low, supervised dosage of only 250mg of testosterone Enanthate once every 21 days can improve bone mineral density by 5% over a period of 6 months .
However, despite the documented positive effects of anabolic steroids on bone and muscle strength, changes in connective tissue structure from steroid treatments may have a negative effect on tendon strength. Research shows that AAS use can result in dysplasia of collagen fibrils, causing a reduction in the overall tensile strength of the body’s tendons .
Furthermore, AAS use can also make one susceptible to tendon rupture, which, although is relatively uncommon .
Effect of Anabolic Steroids in Adolescents
Although AAS use is most common among bodybuilders and athletes, steroids are becoming increasingly prevalent in other circles, particularly if a person is unsatisfied with their body or wishes to shed fat and gain muscle.
According to a survey conducted by the University of Michigan in 2006, called the Monitoring the Future Survey, 2.7% of high school seniors reported that they have tried steroids at least once.
Most people who fall victim of AAS abuse include teenage male athletes seeking to boost athletic performance in competitive sports and gain scholarships. Although men are more likely to try steroids than women, some females as well as males have admitted to trying anabolic steroids as early as the age of 11, mostly for aesthetic reasons.
Anabolic steroids are now illegal in the US without a doctor’s prescription due to their unhealthy side effects. However, people continue to purchase them illegally. Some of the steroids sold illegally are fake, contaminated or are incorrectly labeled.
Some of the side effects of AAS use among boys and girls include psychological symptoms such as irritability, mood swings and depression, sleep problems, drug dependence, severe acne, blood clots, cholesterol and blood pressure problems, liver abnormalities and infections from sharing needles (if steroids are injected).
How do you know if someone is using AAS?
It is important that parents, health care providers and coaches are aware of possible red flags associated with anabolic steroid abuse. Some of these warning signs include:
- Emotional, psychological or behavioral changes, which most commonly include aggressiveness
- Needle marks in large muscles of the body, such as the thighs or buttocks
- Decreasing breast size in girls and enlarged breasts in boys
- Noticeable changes in body built and development in the upper body
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