We often hear people talking about “supplements” and “steroids”. We hear about how “protein powders are harmful to health as they contain steroids” and how people are hesitant to take vitamin supplements as they are “pills” and treat them like medications.
But, do people really understand what are anabolic steroids and dietary supplements? The answer is no. Large sections of the society are still unaware of the use and need of taking dietary supplements and anabolic steroids.
What are Anabolic Steroids and Dietary Supplements?
Anabolic Steroids: Anabolic steroids are synthetic (man-made) substances similar to male sex hormone, testosterone. The term “anabolic” means “growth”. Here, it refers to growth in muscle mass. Steroids are performance enhancing substances which cause an increase in muscle mass and physical strength. Some common examples of anabolic steroids include Androstenedione, Dehydrochloromethyltestosterone (Turinabol), Methandienone (Dianabol), Methyltestosterone (Android), Nandrolone (Durabolin), Oxandrolone (Oxandrin), Oxymetholone (Anadrol), Stanozolol (Winstrol).
Dietary Supplements: Dietary supplement is any product which is consumed orally and which contains dietary nutrients intended to supplement the diet. Dietary supplements may include amino acids, vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanical ingredients (except tobacco), substances like enzymes and metabolites (glucosamine, creatine, alpha-lipoic acid, Coenzyme Q10).
Dietary supplements can be extracts or concentrates and may be available as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids and powders. They are also available in the form of nutrition bars.
Dietary supplements cannot be categorized as foods or drugs and hence, they are not regulated by the FDA. Dietary supplements are regulated under DSHEA (Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act) passed in the US in 1994. DSHEA defines dietary or nutritional supplements as “a nutrient, a formulation, or some compound that is drug-free or natural”.
Use and abuse of anabolic steroids: Anabolic steroids stimulate growth in tissues, especially bone and muscles. They also increase the production of RBCs (Red blood Cells). Anabolic steroids can be taken orally, are injectable or are used externally. Anabolic steroids are used in the treatment of many medical issues such as delayed puberty in boys, sexual dysfunction in men, breast cancer in women, weight loss in HIV, osteoporosis, anemia, endometriosis and other conditions involving hormonal imbalance.
Now, Anabolic steroids are also abused at large. Some athletes’ may abuse anabolic steroids to build muscle mass, prolong endurance and enhance performance. Anabolic steroids are converted into testosterone in the body, beyond normal levels. This leads to some serious side effects like dramatic increase in muscle mass (Greater Anabolism), Organ damage (Liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease), impotence, gynecomastia (fat deposition on the chest due to increased estrogen levels causing abnormal breast enlargement in men), severe acne, hair fall, oily skin, stunted growth and height in teens, shrinking of testicles, azoospermia (absence of sperms in semen), menstrual irregularities in women, excess facial or body hair and deeper voice in women, irritability, increased aggression, mood swings, depression or suicidal tendencies, high blood pressure, alterations in cholesterol and other blood lipids, risk of viral and bacterial infections due to use of unsterile injections.
Anabolic steroids are also addictive. They make the user and abuser physically and psychologically dependant on them.
Use and benefits of dietary supplements: Nutritional or dietary supplements are, in simple words, foods in a concentrated form. Nutritional deficiency is the root cause of many diseases. These days, chronic diseases are on a high and are striking people at a much earlier age. Air and water pollution, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agricultural practices, genetically engineered seeds, and depleted nutrient content in the soil are all responsible for the poor nutrient quality of the fruits and vegetables available in the market today.
The advantage of taking dietary supplements is that they provide adequate quantity of superior quality of nutrients, they give a specific combination and quantity of nutrients required at a particular time in a day and they make it convenient for the body to be supplied with all the essential nutrients.
Who all need to take dietary supplements? Dietary supplements are safe enough to be consumed by all of us. They are concentrated foods that help in building our immune system keeping us away from various diseases.
The modern day fast-paced lives, fast-food culture, increasing stress levels, deteriorating quality of fruits and vegetables are all the reasons for anyone and every one of us to turn to dietary supplements for attaining optimum health. People who are into intense exercise regimes, sports enthusiasts, athletes, competitive bodybuilders are the ones who need dietary supplements to repair the wear and tear in their body, grow and maintain healthy muscle mass, enhance their functionality and improve the immunity of the body. Also, Vegetarianism and veganism sometimes makes it difficult to get nutrients like complete proteins (with all the essential amino acids) and B12 vitamin .
But, simply consuming dietary supplements just for the sake of taking them is not right. Even natural substances can cause undesirable side effects, especially when taken in high doses. There are other things too, that go into building healthier bodies. They are, having an active lifestyle (adequate exercise), healthy eating habits and maintaining a positive state of mind. Finally, it all boils down to body, mind and soul connection.
The confusion between Anabolic Steroids and Dietary Supplements: There is a general fear that supplements may contain anabolic steroids. Due to the ignorance amongst the public and media hype, people easily confuse dietary supplements with anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are drugs that abnormally increase testosterone levels in the body whereas, dietary or nutritional supplements are concentrated forms of naturally occurring food nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, omega 3 fatty acids, etc. Anabolic steroid use is prohibited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The bottom line is that Anabolic Steroids and Dietary Supplements are worlds apart. Use them wisely, use them safely and you will benefit from them. Or else, “too much of anything is bad”!
Ps Note: Before starting on any dietary supplement or Anabolic Steroid its better that you consult your doctor