Working out at gym to gain large muscles has become a popular aspiration among men over the past few years. Even women desire to gain lean muscles to flaunt their picture perfect cuts. While they want to boast off nicely carved out muscles has promoted the concept of exercising among the people for good, it has also given prevalence to the use of unnatural products like steroids and protein supplements which many people consume to gain muscles faster. However, these shortcuts have serious impediments on health, especially cardiovascular health, says Dr. Vanita Arora, Director and Head, Cardiac Electrophysiology at Max Super Speciality Hospital.
In an exclusive interview with Jayashankar Menon, the heart specialist shares a slew of information on the abuse of steroids and more.
JM: What are the ill-effects of steroids?
VA: Large amounts of steroids, taken for prolonged time periods, can wreak havoc in the heart, even leading to a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest. There’s a sizeable subsection of athletes, bodybuilders in particular that have been using staggering amounts of steroids and proteins for a long time and it is time that they get educated about their health effects. Let’s understand in detail how steroids and proteins are different from each other and what their health effects are.
JM: How do a layperson try to understand the role of steroids and protein supplements in terms of gaining muscles?
VA: The term steroid is usually associated with mention to a class of drugs that are used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Steroids have several uses for medical purposes such as boosting sexual hormones in males, supporting reproduction, regulation of the metabolism and immune functions along with increasing muscle mass, bone mass, inflammation and other medical conditions. Protein powders are mainly made up of soy, milk or animal protein, and are used to replenish the protein requirements of the body after a heavy workout. Whey proteins, which are made up of milk are the most commonly used as they are an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein and are most useful for vegetarians who have to eliminate a number of naturally occurring protein sources from their diet, such as meat, chicken, fish and eggs.
JM: What are the actual effects of steroids and protein supplements?
VA: Proteins are actually beneficial in muscle gain and are a safe source of nutrition as they do not interfere with the immune system and do not cause any ill effects on the health if taken in appropriate portions, and as per the prescribed usage. However, same cannot be said for steroids. Steroids are essentially synthetic versions of testosterone. They help in the growth of muscles artificially, and heart also being a kind of muscle, too can get spurred to grow when introduced to steroids. While growth of the heart doesn’t sound like a bad thing at first, it can lead to the thickening of the walls of the heart to a point where they lose pliability and have difficulty pumping blood.
JM: How steroids can negatively impact the heart? Please elaborate.
VA: Steroid users have significantly weaker hearts than those who never use steroids. A weakened heart can’t pump enough blood around the body and the condition is linked to an increased risk of heart failure and sudden cardiac death. Secondly, long-term use of anabolic steroids has been implicated in increased coronary artery disease. The heart cannot contract with the same force as it usually does, and it also becomes less flexible among steroid users. Steroid users also have significantly more plaque build-up in their arteries than non-users. The longer men continue taking steroids, the worse their arteries become. Plaque build-up is a leading causative agent of heart disease, which is the number one killer of men and women across the globe. Taking steroids, even for a short period of time, may cause permanent damage to the heart. The more steroids a person takes over time, the worse the heart damage will be.
JM: What is the bottom line?
VA: For lots of guys, the promise of great muscle mass with the help of illegal anabolic steroids is just too strong. About one in 15 men try steroids at some point in their lives worldwide and that number refers to men overall. The number for recreational athletes and those who lift is about three times higher. Apart from damaging the heart, steroids can lead to issues like kidney failure, liver damage, shrinking of testicles and lowered sperm counts. The shortcut to bigger muscles can very well be the shortcut towards a heart attack. The side effects of steroids can persist years after you stop taking them. So don’t put your health on the line for a quick fix. If you want to gain stronger muscles, there are natural ways to do that. Though the result might show after sometime, it would come without any risk upon cardiovascular and overall health. Usage of such chemicals to build up muscles can increase the risk of Sudden Cardiac Death by causing defects in ECG.