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Here’s What Steroids Actually Do To Your Body

RUMOR: A guy can get past the side effects of steroids by taking HCG.

NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. Some guys try to avoid the major side effects of steroid use by taking doses of a naturally occurring pituitary hormone called HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. Rather than simply pour more testosterone into a guy’s system, HCG over-stimulates a guy’s gonads to produce a higher proportion of testosterone, and sperm along with it. The only problem: There’s very little known about elevated HCG levels, and experts worry that it could lead to dangerous health consequences after prolonged use.

“We don’t know exactly how this affects people in the long term, and that’s a real concern for us,” Sebanegh says. “There are a lot of potential other problems that might result.”

Weinerman agrees: “Those patients don’t get the small testes and the sperm abnormality, but we don’t know the long-term side effects. There is some concern that because your gonads are overly stimulated, then you could have long-term disease. I tell my patients: ‘You don’t want to be a study animal.’”

Sometimes HCG is even promoted as a diet plan, but that’s also probably not safe—and there’s really no proof it even works, according to the Mayo Clinic.

RUMOR: Steroids cause mood swings often nicknamed “roid rage.”

UNCLEAR, BUT POSSIBLE. The old saw about “roid rage” has long shadowed steroid use. While there is anecdotal evidence that steroid use causes emotional changes, there’s no hard proof of causation, and any studies that indicate it have often been based on unreliable sources of information like self-reporting.

“There’s not a lot of research around behavioral changes that result from the use of androgens,” Sebanegh says. “However, I’ll often see couples in my office who talk about behavioral changes—getting more easily angered, or reacting angrily to something—that did not occur before one of the partners started taking these kinds of supplements.”

One interesting note: “Research does suggest there is an increase in both homicide and suicide—either people killing themselves or being killed by others—that accompanies a use of steroids,” Weinerman says. “But it’s not clear why.”

RUMOR: Steroids make your forehead look big.

FALSE. Anabolic steroids can cause acne, but they’re not responsible for the “Cro-Magnon” look that is sometimes associated with steroid use. That pattern of facial growth—called acromegaly—is the product of taking too much human growth hormone (HGH), Weinerman says. “It leads to a thickening of the brow—a little Cro-Magnon-like—a thickening of the skin, and skin folds,” he says.