In millennia past and up until these last few decades, bodubuilding was largely viewed as a healthy physical practice by both those who participated in it, as well as the general public. In truth, the original basic tenets of this lifestyle, which involved lifting weights, healthy eating habits, getting plenty of rest, fresh air, and sunshine, were all geared towards improving the health & physical appearance of the individual. The benefits acquired from engaging in such activities are well documented, supporting the claim that the bodubuilding lifestyle was one of health, vitality, and longevity.
However, over the last few decades, bodubuilding has for many slowly morphed into an endeavor based almost solely on appearance, with any tangible health benefits being more of an afterthought rather than an intended objective. While many of the health benefits related to exercise and nutrition are still present, the world of anabolic steroids has thrust upon the bodubuilding community a new wave of potential health risks. While we have come a long away in our understanding of these drugs and have therefore been able to largely circumvent their side effects, many bodybuilders have left themselves vulnerable to the most serious health risks associated with anabolic steroid use. These are the cardiovascular health risks, such as heart attack & stroke.
Today, most anabolic steroid related cardiovascular health issues are caused by damaged cholesterol/lipid values, high blood pressure, and elevated hematocrit. Anyone one of them alone can be problematic, but many bodybuilders suffer from all three, vastly compounding the potential for harm. With these side effects having taken up residence in a disturbingly large number of both current and former steroid users, this subject deserves the attention of every anabolic steroid using bodybuilder. At a minimum, those who reap the benefits of these drugs should demonstrate responsibility in monitoring this vital aspect of their health. An essential part of this process includes getting regular physician monitored blood work, which is necessary for informing us of all relevant health markers and thereby assisting us in taking the proper corrective action.
While individual anabolic steroid can vary widely in their effects on the human body, some categories of steroids are generally more prone to causing certain side effects. Naturally, steroids have been separated into two primary categories, those of oral (methylated) and injectable anabolic steroid. Of the two, orals tend to present the greatest degree of risk to our cardiovascular health, as their ability to rapidly and significantly affect the user’s cholesterol profile cannot be understated. With this said, oral anabolic steroid also have a solid place in the bodybuilders repertoire and when used responsibly, they have the potential to greatly assist the BB’r in achieving his goals. Injectables can also cause adverse alterations to the BBr’s cholesterol profile, but as a whole, they’re less deleterious in this regard.
With injectables, total dose, type of drug used, and whether or not the drug aromatizes, will all play a role in determining its ability to negatively impact cholesterol values. Typically, injectable steroids which do not aromatize, are used in higher dosages, and which display a more potent androgenic component, will have greater potential to negatively affect our lipid profile than a low-dosed, aromatizing anabolic. Two contrasting examples would be Trenbolone and Nandrolone. Trenbolone is known for being a less forgiving steroid in many ways, and cholesterol is no exception. Many bodybuilders taking this drug notice adverse changes to their cholesterol levels, while Nandrolone is much less likely to be problematic in this area. While these characteristics do not always accurately reflect which steroids will be the greatest cholesterol offenders, they are often an accurate indicator.
Cholesterol/lipids play a significant role in the bigger picture, but it is by no means the sole cause of cardiovascular health problems in anabolic steroids using bodybuilders. Blood pressure is another contributing factor, which should be regularly monitored by the individual. Unlike cholesterol/lipids, which require blood work in order to get any definitive answers, blood pressure can be checked with a simple device right in the privacy of your own home. For bodybuilders who do not have the equipment needed to check their own BP, many pharmacies or similar places of business will provide a self-automated blood pressure machine, which can be used free of charge. Generally, a BP reading of 120/80 is considered ideal, but anywhere below 140/90 is considered OK. Once a bodybuilders begins to get above that range, he should begin taking steps to help restore a more normal reading.
There is great variability among anabolic steroids when it comes to increasing blood pressure. Generally, those anabolic steroids which cause a large amount of water retention and result in quick mass gains are the most notorious for elevating BP. Steroids which result in lean, water free increases in muscle tissue are less likely to be problematic in this area, although there are exceptions to the rule. Unlike cholesterol, in which oral anabolic steroids present the largest degree of health risk, methylation does not appear to be a relevant factor in determining whether or not a steroid is likely to elevate an individual’s blood pressure. When determining which anabolic steroids are most likely to cause this effect, each steroid must be evaluated on a case by case basis. Chronically elevated BP, like cholesterol, can do long-term damage, resulting in cardiovascular consequences years after the BB’r has discontinued using steroids. This should behoove all bodybuilders to make wise short-term decisions, so that long-term good health becomes a reality.
Hematocrit refers to the volume percentage of red blood cells in the blood. When a bodybuilders hematocrit starts to rise outside of the normal range, it has the effect of thickening the blood. The thicker the blood, the harder the heart has to work to pump blood throughout the body. This increases stress on the heart similar to how high blood pressure might increase stress on the heart. High hematocrit also increases the possibility of stroke through an increased risk or forming blood clots. As a whole, steroids are well known to increase RBC, although some tend to do this more proficiently than others. At one point, Anadrol was used medically for this purpose, prior to the advent of prescription EPO. In many ways increased RBC can be beneficial, imparting increased endurance, vascularity, and greater muscle pumps to the user, but when it climbs too high, it becomes another contributing factor to cardiovascular health risk.
Today, manybodybuilders suffer from the cardiovascular health issues mentioned above, but few monitor this area of their health on any type of a regular basis, let alone take steps to minimize the occurrence of damage. The symptoms which manifest themselves in the presence of poor cardiovascular health often go unnoticed, making heart attack the #1 killer of American men today. Steroid using bodybuilders willingly engage in a practice, which has been conclusively shown to elevate their degree of risk substantially, yet many bodybuilders assume a lax attitude in the area of preventative care. Through continuing education, we can continue to reverse this trend, even as some industry voices have already begun to make inroads into this destructive mind-set.
Fortunately, for the bodybuilder who seeks to adopt an attitude of responsibility in terms of cardiovascular health care, there is an abundance of knowledge available on the subject. In part #2 of this article, we will begin to explore some of the steps which can be taken as a steroid using bodybuilder, to help recognize and minimize/prevent these health risks.