How do anabolic steroids work?
A normal male produces 20 times more testosterone than a normal female.(1) This extra testosterone is responsible for greater muscle development in men than women, and the development of other sex characteristics such as facial hair growth and a deep voice.(2) Testosterone does these things when it is absorbed from the bloodstream by certain types of cells.(3) Molecules of testosterone fit themselves into places inside the cells called "receptor sites," just as a key fits into the lock designed for it. When the receptor site is filled by the right type of molecule, it activates the cell to do specific functions.(1) For example, in muscle cells, testosterone promotes the production of protein.(3) There are only a certain number of these "receptor sites" in each cell. If only a few of them get filled by the right type of molecule, the cell will respond at a low level. If all of them are filled, the cell gives its maximum response. A normal male secretes enough testosterone into his blood to fill most of his testosterone receptor sites. However, if he takes the huge doses of anabolic steroids that weightlifters take, the cells will not be able to do any more than they would with a low dose of steroids because the receptor sites are already filled up.(3,4) The extra testosterone only makes side effects more likely.
1. Goldfien A. The gonadal hormones & inhibitors. In: ed. Basic
and clinical pharmacology. Norwalk, CT: Appleton & Lange,
2. Johnson MD. Steroids. Adolescent Med 1991 Feb;2(1):79-93.
3. Strauss RH. Anabolic steroids. In: ed. Drugs and performance
in sports. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1987:5, 59-67.
4. Wilson JD. Androgen abuse by athletes. Endocrine Reviews
by Trent Tschirgi, R. Ph.
(c) 1992 University of Maryland Office of Substance Abuse Studies.
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