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What Are Steroids And How Do Steroids Work?

Medically reviewed by Raymond Radiguet M.D.

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Steroids refer to two different classifications of drugs; corticosteroids and anabolic steroids.

Corticosteroids are anti-inflammation drugs usually prescribed by doctors to help treat conditions that cause inflammation in the body such as lupus, or asthma. They are very different from anabolic steroids, which mostly acts as a performance-enhancing drug.

Anabolic steroids are man-made hormones that work very similar to the male sex hormone, androgen. This means they help the body in building and maintaining muscle, hair growth, fighting stress, and so on. Anabolic steroids also provide the body with synthetic testosterone which helps in promoting growth and development.

what are steroids

While corticosteroids are often prescribed drugs, anabolic steroids are illegal in most countries. This is because athletes often use it to gain an upper hand in sports and to build up strength, muscle, and endurance. Though this has numerous health risks attached to it.

Other forms of steroids include steroid supplements.  These contain weaker forms of the androgen hormones and can be found in local stores or gyms. Although, it is now illegal in some countries as people have begun to abuse it.

While the health risk with steroid supplements is considerably lower than with anabolic steroids, when consumed in large doses, it can have similar effects on the body. However, scientific research shows that they little to no effect on muscle growth, or improving athletic performance.

Most companies that make steroid supplements tend to use false claims about their advantages, uses, and long-term effect.

Steroids can be consumed in many ways including; though pills, injections, creams, gels, and so on, depending on what works best for the person.

What Are Steroids Used For?

Steroids are a recommended treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Although the patient can decide whether or not to use steroids, it is often used in the treatment of patients suffering from asthma, lupus, multiple sclerosis, joint pains, muscle pains, hay fever, eczema, arthritis, hives, inflammatory bowel disease, sciatica, Crohn’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and so on.

The different ways the steroids are administered also have specific uses and are used to treat certain types of illnesses;

Oral Steroids

This is consumed orally in the form of tablets, liquids, and so on. It is extremely helpful in reducing inflammation around the body. Patients with lupus, gout, arthritis, and other forms of inflammatory diseases are usually given oral steroids.

Injected Steroids

As the name suggests, these steroids are directly injected into the muscle, joint, veins, or spinal area of the body. They are currently one of the most popular ways of administering steroids to patients. Like oral steroids, it helps lessen inflammation in the body.

Although, the effects are much stronger around the area or muscle it’s been injected into. Patients with gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and several other autoimmune conditions are often given injected steroids.

By Eye

These steroids are usually taken in the form of ointments or eye drops. They work to lessen inflammation in the eye and surrounding areas. They are less common than other steroid administration methods. They are mostly used to treat a condition called Uveitis.

By Gel Or Cream

This type of steroid is applied to the skin on the inflamed area in the form of a cream or gel. They are also referred to as topical steroids and work well in reducing the inflammation on the skin. They are usually given to patients suffering from psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Doctors usually prescribe steroids as a short-term drug, as long term usage could pose a dangerous threat to the patients’ health. Most people who start using steroids will see their health being improved drastically after only a couple of days.

How Do Steroids Work

Legally prescribed corticosteroids and anabolic steroids function very differently in the body.

Anabolic steroids are used mainly as a way to build up bulk and muscle. They also help relieve the pain from sore and overworked muscles, caused by the stress hormone, cortisol.

Anabolic steroids are a synthetic version of hormones our body produces naturally. When we exercise and lift weights that our body is not used to carrying, we cause micro-tears in our muscle fibers. To heal these tears, your body sends cells there. To prevent the muscle from tearing again, your body then sends extra cells that are stronger and bigger than the former ones. It is through this process that we can build muscle.

Anabolic steroids can speed up the muscle-building process and can act as a supplement to the testosterone in your body. Once consumed, the steroids travel through your bloodstream and reside in your muscle tissue. It then moves into one of the muscle cells, called an androgen receptor. When there, the steroid interacts with the muscle cell and your body’s DNA to start up the muscle making process without the need for excessive weightlifting or exercise.

Corticosteroids also help in building muscle in patients suffering from autoimmune diseases (when the immune system begins to attack the body e.g. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis), or patients with very low testosterone levels. Although, it is much safer than anabolic steroids, and takes longer to complete the muscle-building process.

When consumed, steroids could remain in the body for as long as a year.

Testosterone is also responsible for enhancing secondary male characteristics such as deep voice, growth of body hair, muscle growth, and so on. For patients suffering from diseases such as AIDs or cancer which weaken the body considerably, steroids interact with the cells in your body and help increase the amount of testosterone your body is making.

In people suffering from inflammatory conditions, steroids help to reduce inflammation and redness around the body. Because of how strong steroids are, they could greatly weaken your body’s immune system. This is why steroids are often a recommended treatment for patients with autoimmune conditions.

The white blood cells in your body help protect you from foreign bacteria or chemicals that could destroy your body. However, in autoimmune conditions where the immune system doesn’t work properly, this process could be turned against your body’s tissues and could cause serious damage. This is referred to as inflammation.

Some indicators that you might be experiencing inflammation include redness all over the body, swelling, extreme warmth or heat, extreme pain and sensitivity, etc.

When steroids are in your body, they interact with your white blood cells and change the way they work. This helps stop the chemical reaction that causes inflammation and ensures that there is barely any damaged tissue in your body.

Steroids and Addiction

Some steroid users try different methods to try to limit the risks associated with abusing steroids.

Cycling is a process where people consume multiple doses of the same steroid over a short period of time, after which they take a long break from it then repeat the process. Stacking involves mixing two or more steroids and consuming them at once. The idea behind it is that the drugs will have a better effect when mixed together, though there is no scientific proof of this.

Other steroid users may use the pyramid method. This involves taking steroids in small doses and gradually increasing the size of your dose until it reaches the peak. Then gradually lowering it to complete a cycle.

Many steroid users believe that this helps enhance the drug’s effectiveness, and gives your body time to get used to really high doses. The short breaks afterward are also supposed to give your body time to recover from the steroid use before another cycle starts.

However, there is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting this view. A lot of people who use steroids plan on only using it once or for a short time. But, like most performance-enhancing drugs, steroids can be quite addictive.

People who abuse steroids often find themselves addicted to the drug and unable to stop taking it. People who manage to stop taking steroids will often suffer from various withdrawal symptoms, including depression, constant mood changes, extreme fatigue, inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and so on.

Conclusion

Not all steroids are predominantly bad, and they actually have good uses and can be used to treat severe medical conditions.

However, those who wish to use steroids to treat medical conditions or illnesses should have a long discussion with their doctor to understand the uses and effects it can have on their bodies.

Anabolic steroids are currently illegal in most parts of the world and has been continually proven to be bad for your health. It is therefore not recommended to any athlete, or bodybuilding looking to build muscle. There are other safer alternative methods you can try that work very similar to anabolic steroids.

Corticosteroids are best taken in small, controlled doses over an extended period. And when used in the right way, it’s useful in

The bottom line is, anyone planning on using steroids; either corticosteroids or legal steroid supplements should ensure that they have an adequate understanding of what it is and how it works, and the threat it could be to them.

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