Do anabolic steroids cause liver damage?
Yes, depending on the type of anabolic steroid used, the
amount, and the length of time taken.(1,2) When the
liver is under stress or damaged, increased amounts of certain
chemicals (SGOT, SGPT, and others) are found in the bloodstream.
"Liver function tests" detect these chemicals as a measure of
stress and possible liver damage. Anabolic steroid abusers have up
to twice the level of these chemicals in their blood compared to
non-users.(1) These values may return to normal if the
person stops taking anabolic steroids.(1) SGOT and SGPT are
released while the liver is being injured. Once the damaging
process is over, no further release occurs. Whether the damaged
tissue repairs itself is unclear. Thus the damage done may
continue to exist despite normal SGOT and SGPT blood levels.
Oral steroids are more difficult for the liver to metabolize
than injectable steroids. Liver cells are damaged as the
liver attempts to break down the oral agents.(3) There are
changes in the structure of the liver with continued use, and the
liver's ability to rid the body of wastes (excretory function) is
decreased.(4) In one type of toxicity, blood-filled pockets
open inside the liver as a result of steroid use. This is known
medically as "peliosis hepatitis," and although rare, is not
restricted to high doses or long-term use of steroids. (2,5,6)
Injectable steroids do not appear to cause direct chemical
damage like oral steroids. However, the injection can carry many
kinds of bacteria and viruses past the protective skin and into the
blood. Infectious hepatitis is a liver disease transmitted by
dirty needles and contact with contaminated blood. It can be life-
threatening (Note: Any infectious disease including sexually
transmitted diseases and AIDS can be passed through the needle).
Anabolic steroids may be tumor growth promoters:(5,7)
Steroids promote the growth certain liver cells into "nodules"
which closely resemble tumors.(5) If steroid use is stopped,
often the nodule will go away by itself.(4,5) However, at least
three people have died from tumors thought to have been caused by
their steroid abuse.(4,8)
A chemical process called "aromatisation" changes anabolic
steroids into female hormones called "estrogens."(8) The
liver deactivates these estrogens, but consumption of alcohol slows
the process down so that the estrogens cause breast development in
males.(7,9) This condition is known medically as
"gynecomastia." Some researchers believe that gynecomastia in a
steroid abuser may also suggest liver damage.(8,10)
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