The good, the bad, and the ugly side effects of steroids have been so controversial that the curious portion of the population want to dig deeper to fathom if and how do steroids work. For the purpose of this article, steroids here would refer to the synthetic derivatives of our body’s natural hormone called testosterone – the hormone that is responsible for manly characteristics and behavior.
Learning the answer to the question, “Do steroids work?” is understanding the workings of the natural testosterone from which steroids is derived. Knowing such would allow us to use know why some claim that steroids do work, while others say they don’t. To know if steroids do work, we have to specify what one expects when taking anabolic steroids? To this, our answer is: a certain level of satisfactory physique with good muscle mass.
Testosterone is responsible in the development of sexual differentiation and external genitalia before birth. More testosterone means that the fetus will develop male qualities and less, female. This development characterizes the androgenic effect of testosterone.
At puberty, testosterone begins to exert influence over the development of secondary sexual characteristics and anabolic processes such as bone formation, growth-promoting effects on somatic tissue, and muscle bulk. This is made possible when the hypothalamus secretes gonatropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) causing both luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to be released from the anterior pituitary. The release of LH signals the Leydig cells to produce testosterone, resulting in the development of male secondary sex characteristics. The hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA) is controlled by a feedback mechanism – as the level of testosterone rises in the blood, GnRH and LH/FSH secretion decline.
Overt physical changes become manifest in the male at pubescence such as body musculature, fat distribution, bone growth and epiphysial closure. Laryngeal enlargement, vocal cord thickening, testicular growth, as well as spermatogenesis, become apparent. The increased testosterone also increases the secretion of the sebaceous glands which triggers pimples and acne. Once physical maturity is attained, testosterone functions homeostatically. It sustains spermatogenesis, maintains muscle bulk, maintains secondary sex characteristics, and aids in erectile function.
This is the reason why men are generally stronger and bulkier than women. Men have more testosterone than women. Nonetheless, the anabolic effect is more evident when one does physical exertion. A man whose job requires using strength and muscles is highly likely to utilize the anabolic properties of his natural testosterone than a man whose job requires eight hours of confined office work.
So how do anabolic steroids work? Once they have entered the bloodstream, anabolic steroids act in much the same way as natural testosterone, adding to that already produced by the testes. The steroid testosterone attaches itself to muscle cells boosting growth. The brain shall detect these additional testosterone and regulates the natural ones being produced.
When the released testosterone is absorbed from the bloodstream by muscle cells. Molecules of testosterone fit themselves into places inside these cells called androgen receptors, like how a key fits into a lock. When the receptor site is filled by the right type of molecule, it becomes activated. In muscle cells, it produces muscle protein. These muscle proteins are the natural carpenters of the body when the muscle fiber undergoes physical wear and tear during physical workouts and exertions. If there are no available androgen receptors, the extra testosterone becomes free and may affect other organs like the liver or the brain, thus increasing the drug’s side effects. Other drugs can inhibit these side effects that is why it is important for those taking anabolic steroids to monitor them.
Once the steroid metabolized, it is processed by the liver and then excreted in the bile or the urine. The actual excretion products varies an it is these products that show during sports drug testing.