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
1. Yesalis CE, Wright JE, Bahrke MS. Epidemiological and policy
issues in the measurement of the long term health effects of
anabolic-androgenic steroids. Sports Medicine 1989
2. Johnson MD. Steroids. Adolescent Med 1991 Feb;2(1):79-93.
3. Kleiner SM. Performance-enhancing aids in sport - health
consequences and nutritional alternatives. J Amer Coll Nutr
4. Calabrese LH, Kleiner SM, Barna BP, Skibinski CI, Kirkendall
DT, Lahita RG, Lombardo JA. The effects of anabolic steroids
and strength training on the human immune response. Med Sci
Sports Exercise 1989 Aug;21(4):386-92.
5. Amsel Z, Genser SG, Haverkos HW. Anabolic steroid use among
male high school seniors. JAMA J Am Med Assoc 1989
6. Wagner JC. Abuse of drugs used to enhance athletic
performance. American Journal Of Hospital Pharmacy 1989
7. Scott MJ, Scott MJ. HIV infection associated with injections
of anabolic steroids. JAMA J Am Med Assoc 1989 Jul;262(2):207-
8. Wilson CB. The cellular immune system and its role in host
defense. In: eds. Principles and practice of infectious
diseases. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1990, 119.
by Trent Tschirgi, R. Ph.
(c) 1992 University of Maryland Office of Substance Abuse Studies.
All Rights Reserved.
Disclaimer: The information presented
is intended to be used for educational purposes only. The statements made
have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (U.S.). These
products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition
or disease. Please consult with your own physician or health care practitioner
regarding any suggestions and recommendations made.