The word “steroids” conjures images of heavily muscled body-builders and athletes pushed beyond the healthy limits of human performance. For decades steroid use was commonplace, but that use is more controlled due to relatively new knowledge about their serious side-effects on a user’s health, including on fertility. Let’s take a look at the effects of anabolic steroids which is, essentially, synthetic testosterone on male fertility.
How do anabolic steroids work?
The steroids we’re talking about here are anabolic steroids, synthetic testosterone. Also known as anabolic-androgenic steroids, these drugs are prescribed for the treatment of various conditions, including hormone imbalances and muscle loss. Unfortunately, they are often abused by athletes and others trying to quickly increase muscle mass.
Steroids work by artificially increasing testosterone levels in the body. Testosterone, of course, is the primary male sex hormone, and it is responsible for the development of physical characteristics most people consider “male:” deep voice, body shape, etc. Steroids also increase the development of muscle mass by stimulating the creation of protein. Other, less desirable effects of steroid use can include:
- Hair loss
- Enlarged prostate
- Increased aggression — so-called “‘roid rage”
- Heart problems, including hypertension and arrhythmia
The effect synthetic testosterone has on male fertility
Testosterone is a critical part of the male reproductive cycle. When your testosterone levels fall, your body responds by producing both luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). LH tells the testes to produce more testosterone, while FSH tells them to produce sperm. Eventually, the levels rise again, shutting off the supply of LH and FSH.
By artificially increasing your body’s testosterone levels with steroids, you are telling your body that it doesn’t need to create more of its own. Unfortunately, you are also telling the body not to produce sperm, because both LH and FSH are only made when testosterone levels are low.
In addition to lowering sperm counts, steroid abuse can actually make the testicles shrink. It can also lead to erectile dysfunction. Even after a man stops using steroids, these effects can linger. It can take at least three months and as long as one or two years before sperm production returns.
If you are using steroids, you should consult with your doctor about the effects they may have on your ability to conceive. Even after quitting, they can have a long-term or even permanent impact on your health.