A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reveals that the intake of anabolic steroids by bodybuilders to get that perfect six-pack can harm their testicular function for years.
The study found that many of the previous anabolic steroid users had testicle dysfunction even after two and a half years of quitting steroids.
The research was conducted on 132 men between 18 and 50 years of age who did recreational strength training. The participants were divided into three categories: never users, current users and former users of anabolic steroids who quit nearly three years earlier.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic or human-made testosterone used in men to treat the hormonal problem, delayed puberty and muscle loss from some diseases.
The testicular function was determined by the biomarker called serum insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3), a hormone made by the same cells in the testes that make testosterone.
When compared with the non-users of steroids, men who used anabolic steroids had lower amounts of INSL3. The longer the men had used steroids, the lower was the level of INSL3.
"Long-term use of anabolic steroids can suppress testicular function, and even when these men stopped using anabolic steroids, the recovery of testicular function can be incomplete or recovery may not occur," said Dr. Shalender Bhasin, a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine.
Testicular dysfunction is further linked to shrinking testicles, a drop in sperm count, and a higher risk of prostate cancer.
Using anabolic steroids without a prescription from a health care provider is not legal or safe. But they are now increasingly misused by some bodybuilders and athletes to build their muscles and improve athletic performance.
The steroids are consumed orally, injected into the muscles or applied on the skin as a gel or cream. These doses maybe 10 to 100 times higher than doses used to treat medical conditions
Professional athletes are not the only people using the artificial steroid and in fact, more than 90 per cent of the users are recreational bodybuilders who use these compounds to look more muscular.
"About 100 per cent of the men who use anabolic steroids in large doses will have issues with testosterone and sperm production and then, depending on the duration of use, many of these men will not fully recover when they discontinue use," added Bhasin.
The use of anabolic steroids can also lead to sexual dysfunction, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stunted growth and cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks, artery damage, and strokes.