A new study of 100 bodybuilders sheds light on everything the interwebs WON’T tell you about what really happens to your balls, sex life, and hormones when you get on gear…
Endocrinologists at the University of Copenhagen studied 37 bodybuilders who were taking steroids, 33 bodybuilders who had been clean for 2-3 years, and another 30 bodybuilders who had never taken steroids.
Half of the users and ex-users had taken hCG, a hormone that -- according to manuals for steroids users commonly circulated online -- helps to restore hormone balance after a steroid cycle. About a third of the users and ex-users had used anti-estrogens (also known as SERMs) during their Post Cycle Therapy (PCT).
*Post Cycle Therapy involves following a cycle of anabolic steroids with drugs reputed to 1) restore testicular function and restart natural testosterone production, 2) protect against complications resulting from hormonal imbalances, such as the growth of breasts in males. PCT is widely recommended online as a way of making steroid cycles safer and preventing side effects. But does it?
And how bad are the side effects really?
We won't sugar coat it. Withered balls, a shockingly high rate of sexual "difficulties", and low testosterone levels -- even after PCT and years of clean living.
The study confirms: Steroid use permanently cripples testosterone production at the source – a swift, chemical kick to the ‘nads.
Interestingly, when examining the data, the Swedes found that Post Cycle Therapy did not prevent loss of testicular tissue and function; nor did PCT restore testicular size or function. While PCT might help keep you from growing breasts, be warned: it's protective effect doesn't do diddly for the twins down south.
The graph below shows how testicle size (and function) is damaged while steroids are used. Of note: most of the testicular trauma and tissue-loss occurs in the first weeks of steroid use.
The oft-repeated notion that only long-term steroid use damages the testicles is simply untrue.
For those who’ve always wondered, “Just how small we talking here?” – the testicles of participants who used steroids were generally 50% to 60% smaller than normal, adult testicles.
As one might expect, little, weak testicles come with a range of other problems.
Erectile dysfunction, decreased sex drive, and depression were vastly more common in the ex-users than in the subjects who had never used steroids. In the graph below, compare the group on the far left (no steroids) with the group on the far right (previously used steroids).
Those who had used steroids were:
In fact, while these sexual side effects were bad on-cycle (the middle group above), they worsened considerably in the years that followed. Even after stopping, and regardless of whether Post Cycle Therapy was used, the former steroid users were dramatically more likely to experience significant sexual problems.
The world's weakest consolation prize: Getting off steroids did result in a degree of re-growth in the years that followed. However, the steroid-users testicles never returned to normal size.
In the above graphic's middle section, the absurdly high total testosterone levels of the participants who were still using steroids stands out – but that should be expected. After all, they're on that Captain America juice.
What is easy to miss in that middle section is how much lower the orange (former steroid users) group’s testosterone levels are than those in the gray group (those who never used steroids).
Some steroid advocates online argue that having low total (bound) testosterone is not as important as it sounds – the type that really matters is free testosterone (that is, testosterone not bounded to a protein, for anyone who's always wondered). The researchers measured this as well, across all three groups.
However, free testosterone concentration was also significantly lower in the ex-users than in the control group of clean athletes. Former steroid users suffered an irreversible 20% reduction in their free testosterone levels.
This study makes it clear: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even with shorter, less frequent cycles and PCT, damaging the testicles (and the long term sexual and hormonal side effects of doing so) seems an unavoidable consequence. This must be taken into consideration by anyone considering using anabolics.
While the use of certain steroids, dosages, or Post Cycle Therapies may be able to reduce the risk of some side effects (acne or breast growth in males, for example), the data shows that most steroid cycles do result in long term problems for natural testosterone and sexual health.
Simply put, while you might be able to prevent some aesthetic side effects, there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done to protect your boys if you choose to go on cycle.
None of this is to say that steroids will kill you dead or make you a bad person. Steroid-use is a personal choice, and it doesn’t affect one person what another person does with his or her own body. No judgement here.
What this study does say, in clear terms, is that many of the steroid-gurus on the internet haven’t been straight about the risk/reward trade-offs of steroid use.
If you know the risks and still want to use anabolics, more power to you. Hell, anyone who can stare down those side effects and go for it anyway probably has a big ol’ pair of balls. Here’s hoping it stays that way.