Anabolic Steroids Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Liver Damage – Study

Although the use (or misuse) of anabolic steroids has become associated with serious health problems of all types over the past several years, the message is one that cannot be overemphasized – these substances are dangerous and can cause catastrophic damage to the human body.

The results of a new study published in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes serve to drive the point home.

In measuring the effects of anabolic steroids on men with HIV wasting disease, the researchers found that their use: (1) decreases levels of HDL  (“good”) cholesterol; (2) increases levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol; (3) increases lean body mass and fat; (4) decreases testosterone levels; and (5) causes serious liver toxicity within as little as 12 weeks.

According to Dr. Carl Grunfeld, chief of the metabolism and endocrine sections at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and study author, these findings are relevant to athletes who use anabolic steroids as performance enhancers.

While the increase in lean body mass and fat is “good news for people with devastating wasting illnesses, who suffer from the effects of loss of muscle mass and whose most immediate risk is that they will die of their disease,” the implication of these complications for healthy people who take anabolic steroids can be quite serious indeed.

As Grunfeld noted, “the biggest use of these steroids today is among body builders and athletes, who take these drugs to build muscle, but who could wind up with significantly damaged hearts and livers.”

According to the researchers, this double-blind study of 262 HIV-positive men was the largest one to date involving men with HIV-associated weight loss.

For the initial 12 weeks of the study, the men were randomly assigned to receive a placebo, or daily doses of 20, 40, or 80 milligrams of the anabolic steroid oxandrolone.

During the following 12 weeks, the subjects were allowed to receive open-label oxandrolone.

Grunfeld observed that the negative effects of the steroids were obvious within the first 12 weeks. “HDL plummets. LDL goes up. This predisposes people to an increased risk of heart attack. Furthermore, we found grade III and grade IV liver toxicity in some men, which means a very significant risk of serious liver damage.”

The 20 milligram dose was found to be more effective than higher doses in promoting weight gain in those men with the most wasting. Those who weighed more and were healthier required higher doses to gain weight.

This finding is significant because it demonstrates strong healthy people “need a higher dose to get a benefit, and the higher the dose, the more the toxicity.”

As a result of the research, Grunfeld estimates the risk of heart attack is increased by 58% for men taking as little as 20 milligrams of oxandrolone per day. That risk doubles with a 40 milligram-per-day dose, and triples with 80 milligrams.

These estimates were based on HDL and LDL changes. Grunfeld emphasized that when you factor in “smoking or hypertension…the risk becomes really serious.”

For people with the devastating wasting illnesses that often accompany HIV, however, the fact that steroids promote gains in both muscle and fat creates a situation where the short-term benefits may outweigh the longer-term risks of heart and liver damage.

Notwithstanding these apparent benefits, Grunfeld stated: “We would still stop the drug among anyone who has grade III or grade IV liver toxicity.

(Source: Medical News Today 2/22/06)

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