No one with a television or Internet access in Australia is a stranger to the term steroids or what it means to professional athletes. Major league baseball, professional football, pro wrestling, and professional cycling have all come under the microscope. But what are steroids? What do they do? How do they work? In this guide, we’ll go through the types of steroids that occur naturally in our bodies, what they’re used for when they are synthesized for prescription drugs, and how they work as illegal performance enhancing drugs. We’ll look at a few famous cases of steroid use and abuse, and we’ll also touch on the subtle difference between “doping” and using steroids.
So what are steroids, and what do the different types of steroids do? According to Dr. Benjamin Wedro, MD, two types of steroids occur naturally in the body. Corticosteroids, produced in the adrenal gland, include aldosterone, which helps the body manage sodium content, and cortisol, which aids in our stress response and in controlling inflammation. Corticosteroids are often synthesized and prescribed for topical, aural, or intravenous use to treat inflammation, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflamed bowel disease, and other disorders .
Corticosteroids v. Anabolic Steroids
The other type of steroids, androgenic or anabolic, are testosterone-controlling hormones. They regulate the levels of hormones in the testicles or ovaries. Androgenic steroids control the development of male sex traits, while anabolic steroids control and contribute to the growth of muscle mass. This is why patients undergoing female to male sex reassignment are often prescribed androgenic steroids, but not necessarily anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are the most known and most controversial steroids, as they are often synthesized and used illegally by athletes to gain more muscle mass for performance enhancement. Some examples of anabolic steroids are Metribolene, Androstenediol, Methyltestosterone, and 1-Androstenediol, but there are many, many more synthesized anabolic steroids in use both legally and illegally .
Now let’s talk about problems with steroid use and professional athletes. The most recent scandal in the news with an athlete using performance-enhancing drugs is the case of Alex Rodriguez. The famous New York Yankees’ third baseman, known for his amazing record and his brief relationship with Madonna, is now known for his alleged involvement in the Biogenesis doping scandal. According to Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, the anabolic steroid in use in this case was Human Growth Hormone, or HGH. Rodriguez is facing a suspension and penalty fees, but anabolic steroid use can land you in a lot more trouble than that . Sprinter Marion Jones won five gold medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, only to have them all stripped from her, and then do subsequent jail time, in 2007 when it was found that she had been doping with EPO (Erythropoietin) and a designer cocktail of anabolic steroids.
It should be noted that EPO is not a steroid, but a blood oxygenator. Athletes who use EPO are said to be “blood doping,” a different form of performance enhancement than steroid use. We have refrained from mentioning the famous scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong and his seven consecutive Tour de France victories because Armstrong was an alleged blood doper, using EPO rather than anabolic steroids. One drug test, however, in 1999 came back with a positive for steroids. Armstrong and his team claimed that this was a false positive, as he’d been using a corticosteroid topical cream to treat skin irritation, which was legal in the sport but could create a false positive.
So, there are two general types of steroid. Both corticosteroids and androgenic/anabolic steroids are produced naturally in the body. Corticosteroids are often synthesized and used for inflammation, while anabolic steroids affect muscle growth. So, when you hear about a friend taking steroids for a bad case of poison ivy, don’t expect her to bulk up and lift a car for you. All performance-enhancing steroids are anabolic steroids. There is a whole range of designer anabolic steroids, but they all boil down to increasing the levels of muscle-building hormones in the body.
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