Men who abuse hormones such as testosterone or steroids for bodybuilding can have declines in sperm and testosterone production, researchers say. The good news: these changes seem to reverse once men stop hormone overuse.
While the use of nonprescribed male hormones (androgens) has surged in many wealthy countries, there has been little research into their effect on men’s reproductive function, including sperm production, testosterone and fertility, according to lead researcher Nandini Shankara Narayana. She’s an endocrinologist at the University of Sydney and Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Australia.
The study of 93 men included 41 who were currently using testosterone or steroids; 31 who had used them three or more months before the study; and 21 healthy men who exercised regularly and did not use androgens.
Compared with men who had stopped using the hormones or who had never taken them, current users had significantly smaller testicles, on average, and lower sperm output, the study found.
Current users also had lower levels of luteinizing hormone, which is involved in testosterone production, and of follicle-stimulating hormone, which is involved in sperm production, the findings showed.
Former users did not differ from men who had never taken the supplements in terms of sperm production and hormone levels, indicating complete recovery, according to the study presented Monday at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, in New Orleans.
On average, luteinizing hormone levels recovered within nine months after men stopped taking the supplements. Sperm output returned to normal in about 14 months and follicle-stimulating hormone levels normalized in nearly 19 months, the findings showed.
“These results will help endocrinologists involved in care of men who are using typically nonprescribed, high doses of androgens for bodybuilding, a practice that is increasingly recognized but for which virtually no prognostic information has been available to support medical care during recovery from androgen abuse,” Shankara Narayana said in an Endocrine Society news release.
Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Caution: Bodybuilding Products Can Be Risky
Your buddy at the gym can’t say enough about the bodybuilding products he’s been taking to help build muscle mass and strength. You wonder, are they all safe to use?
According to CDR Mark S. Miller, Pharm. D., a regulatory review officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bodybuilding products that contain steroids or steroid-like substances are associated with potentially serious health risks, including liver injury. “Some of the liver injuries were life-threatening,” CDR Miller says.
CDR Miller was the lead reviewer assessing hundreds of adverse event reports made to the FDA from July 2009 through December 2016. Thirty-five reports showed evidence of serious liver injury.
In addition to liver injury, anabolic steroids have been associated with serious reactions such as severe acne, hair loss, altered mood, irritability, increased aggression, and depression. They have also been associated with life-threatening reactions such as kidney damage, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs), and deep vein thrombosis (blood clots that occur in veins deep in the body).
These bodybuilding products are promoted as hormone products and/or as alternatives to anabolic steroids for increasing muscle mass and strength. Many of these products make claims about the ability of the active ingredients to enhance or diminish androgen, estrogen, or progestin-like effects in the body, but actually contain anabolic steroids or steroid-like substances, synthetic hormones related to the male hormone testosterone.
Bodybuilding Products May Contain Steroids
Cara Welch, Ph.D., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Dietary Supplement Programs, explains that many of these bodybuilding products sold online as well as in retail stores, are labeled as “dietary supplements.” “In fact,” she says, “many of these products are not dietary supplements at all; they are illegally marketed, unapproved new drugs.” FDA has not reviewed these products for safety, effectiveness, or quality before these companies began marketing.
CDR Jason Humbert, a regulatory operations officer in FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, says that potentially harmful, sometimes hidden ingredients in products promoted for body building continue to be a concern. “The companies making these products are breaking the law by exploiting an easily accessible marketplace to get these products to consumers,” he says. “In the end, it’s consumers who are put in harm’s way by taking dangerous ingredients from products promoted as having miraculous results or making empty promises, and who may not understand the risks.”
Some who use bodybuilding products engage in “stacking,” using multiple products (including stimulants or products providing false assurances of liver protection) to enhance results or “gains.” These combinations may put consumers at greater risk for serious and life-threatening reactions.
What to Do
If you’re taking any body building products that claim to contain steroids or steroid-like substances, FDA recommends that you stop taking them immediately because of the potentially serious health risks associated with using them, CDR Miller says. The agency also recommends that you:
- Talk to your health care professional about any body building products and/or ingredients you have taken or are planning to take, particularly if you are uncertain about those ingredients.
- Talk to your health care professional if you are experiencing symptoms possibly associated with these products, particularly nausea, weakness or fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), or brown or discolored urine.