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Here’s What Steroids Actually Do To Your Body

RUMOR: Steroids can ruin a guy’s hips.

TRUE. Ever hear of a guy at the gym suddenly suffering a catastrophic hip injury, even though he didn’t injure himself in a way that could have caused it? Blame the steroids—and a nasty condition called aseptic necrosis of the femoral head.

“We don’t know exactly why [aseptic necrosis] results, but it is related to very high levels of [testosterone],” says Sebanegh. “The blood supply to the femoral head—basically, the part of your leg that connects to your hipbone—is inadequate, and the bone is not well vascularized.… I’ve had weightlifters in my practice who have come to me after having unusual hip fractures that were unrelated to trauma. It is something we see.”

RUMOR: Steroids will change the size of a guy’s penis.

FALSE. This myth gets tossed around a lot, but if a guy says steroids made his penis bigger, then he’s bluffing.

“[Steroid use] does not change penis size for guys who have had normal levels of hormones throughout their lives,” Sebanegh says.

Weinerman agrees: “In general, it shouldn’t affect your penis.”

RUMOR: Steroids can make a guy go bald.

SOMETIMES TRUE. Male-pattern baldness can be accelerated by the increase of hormonal imbalance created by steroids, Weinerman says.

“Some people are more sensitive to testosterone than others, and for men who have a tendency toward male-pattern baldness, this is going to exaggerate it,” he says. “It’s almost like a kid going through puberty—your body is not used to it, and so you have side effects like hair changes and acne.”

Worse yet, he says, “the baldness may not be reversible.”

RUMOR: Steroids can reduce a guy’s “good” cholesterol.

TRUE. “With testosterone, you increase the risk of heart disease by decreasing HDL, the healthy cholesterol,” Weinerman says. As is often the case in people with cholesterol problems, a drop in HDL increases the risk for heart disease.

It’s not immediately clear why this happens, but Sebanegh suggests that it may result from the way steroids affect metabolism in the liver.

RUMOR: Steroids will work regardless of what kind a guy buys.

FALSE. Steroid use is a risky and dangerous proposition for your reproductive and hormonal health, even when you use medically approved doses and chemicals. But what’s even scarier, Weinerman says, is that because steroids are regulated only as food supplements, not drugs, there’s virtually no control over what chemicals go into them.

“When you buy this crap over the counter, you don’t know what you’re buying,” he says. “You really have no idea how potent a supplement you’re taking. Even if you buy it from a non-shady guy over-the-counter at the drug store, [you] still don’t know what they’re buying.”

The research backs that up. A major university study of over-the-counter steroid supplements found that “some brands of androstenedione are grossly mislabeled,” according to the paper published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.