How do anabolic steroids interact with the immune system?
High doses of anabolic steroids reduce the amounts of immune globulin A, G, and M in the blood.(1-4) These proteins, known medically as IgA, IgG, and IgM, are part of the body's humoral immune system. These antibodies that circulate in the bloodstream and attack invading bacteria. Having fewer of them may make a person more likely to develop a serious infection. Steroid injection can carry many kinds of bacteria and viruses past the protective skin and into the blood, causing infection. The use of syringes without strict sanitary and sterile conditions can transmit infectious hepatitis, a life-threatening disease. Needle-sharing can lead to AIDS and other blood-borne diseases.(5) There are two documented cases of AIDS transmission traced to needle-sharing in the gym.(6,7) By contrast, anabolic steroids increase the activity of the natural killer cells.(3,4) Another of the body's defenses against infection, natural killer cells are specialized white blood cells that attack specific viruses and bacteria and help to prevent tumor formation.(8) Increased natural killer cell activity could be helpful to the body.(4) However, overactive natural killer cells could also attack the body's own tissues, leading to diseases that are known medically as "autoimmune diseases."(4)
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by Trent Tschirgi, R. Ph.
(c) 1992 University of Maryland Office of Substance Abuse Studies.
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