Testosterone is a hormone naturally produced by the body’s endocrine system and is something we all have. Testosterone has two different effects on the body: anabolic effects which promote growth and muscle building, and androgenic effects which develop the male sex organs and secondary sex characteristics such as deepening of the voice and growth of facial hair (virility). The amount of testosterone we produce daily depends upon a lot of things, including gender, time of day, age, menstrual cycle, menopause, stress, and medications. In men, testosterone is produced in the testes in a daily cycle (7-11mg/day). In women, ovaries and the adrenal glands produce testosterone (approx. 0.25 mg/day). For both, levels decline with age. Exactly how testosterone works is not well understood. It’s strange that something so central to our sex lives would be so little understood, but like much of life, research on testosterone is pretty skewed by cultural beliefs about masculinity and femininity. Studies suggest that testosterone directly affects muscle development (discussed in more depth shortly), fat levels, bone mass, many different parts of the brain, moods, depression, energy levels, ability to have orgasms, and ability to sleep.
Low levels of testosterone (hypogonadism) can cause symptoms of fatigue, malaise (ill feeling), loss of sex drive, and loss of muscle tissue. These symptoms can often be treated with synthetic testosterone. Anabolic steroids are compounds related to testosterone. Using synthetic testosterone or anabolic steroids may help people with low testosterone and HIV. Studies have found that testosterone can get very low in men and women with HIV/AIDS. People with HIV will benefit from exogenous (artificially added) testosterone, as it will prevent the rapid weight loss associated with HIV and they may even gain weight, especially muscle mass. This is because testosterone, as well as being anabolic and androgenic, is anti-catabolic (specifically an anti-glucocorticoid). We will mention HIV frequently here as the simple fact is, it concerns all (not just those who are sexually active) so we should all have an open minded and mature attitude to the subject. Also, there is a lot of research going on which is looking into the use of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) to help treat this life threatening disease. Weight loss in people with HIV and AIDS is a serious problem, even with “super-combo” therapy. Much of AIDS weight loss is a specific shortage of muscle, and in women, fat as well. With low T-cells, the body often burns up muscle instead of the usual fat and carbohydrates. This is why some PWAs (People With Aids) get skinny legs and bulging stomachs without losing weight.
Muscles need protein. Hormones like testosterone, IGF (insulin-like growth factor) and HGH (human growth hormone) help proteins find their way to muscles and stay there. They also help maintain muscle once it has been made, and help the body burn fat instead of muscle. If it wasn’t for these hormones, protein from food would not be used to make muscles, and existing muscles would get quickly burned up. Studies of low testosterone in HIV-negative people show that protein fails to build muscle, and old muscle is broken down by the body to fuel itself. Simply concluded, low testosterone levels lead to muscle loss!
Testosterone is converted to oestrogen by the action of aromatase enzyme and reduced to DHT (dihydrotestosterone) by 5-alpha-reductase enzyme. DHT is approx. 4 times more androgenic than testosterone itself. People, (especially bodybuilders) wishing to prevent conversion to oestrogen have to take anti-oestrogens. However, remember you don’t want to cut out oestrogen completely, just monitor it and keep it low as it plays a role in the production of growth hormone and IGF-1. DHT is said to be the main culprit for the many unwanted side effects of testosterone, this may be true to a degree but the fact is all anabolic androgenic steroids exert an effect on the androgen receptor. The 5-alpha-reductase enzyme is found in high amounts in tissues including the prostate, skin, scalp and liver. So, one can understand now that because of the increased potency localised in these tissues, side effects like acne due to increased sebaceous gland activity and accelerated male pattern baldness due to activity of the androgen receptors in the scalp, become possible.
Free & Bound Testosterone
A very small amount (approx. 2% in men and less than 1% in women) of testosterone actually exists as free (or unbound) testosterone. There rest is found bound to both SHBG (approx. 45%) and albumin (approx. 53%). Obviously the more free testosterone there is the greater the anabolic androgenic effect. By altering the testosterone molecule you can alter the affinity for binding to SHBG and albumin. This is why some steroids can exert a more anabolic androgenic effect than others on a milligram to milligram basis, as there will be more free testosterone available to bind to the androgen receptor as it doesn’t bind well to SHBG or albumin. Another method to increase free testosterone is to administer a steroid (like proviron) that actually likes binding to SHBG so that once you administer another testosterone (this is called stacking), most of the SHBG is “soaked-up” and so free androgen levels increase! These binding proteins do have a purpose; they protect testosterone from rapid metabolism and play a vital role in androgen transport.
Testosterone and muscle growth:
Testosterone effects those cells which carry androgen receptors, these include skeletal muscle cells, skin, scalp, kidney, bone, prostate and cells that make up the central nervous system (CNS). Testosterone makes its way into the cell (cytosol) and binds with the androgen receptor forming a “receptor-complex”. This receptor-complex migrates to the cell nucleus to bind to a specific section of DNA, this binding is called the “hormone-response-element” (HRE). The HRE activates the process of “transcription”. Transcription happens at a specific gene sequence, for example, when testosterone effects skeletal muscle, the HRE activates the transcription of genes which code for the production (translation) of the contractile proteins, actin and myosin. Once the message to produce these proteins has been delivered, the receptor-complex disassociates. Note that both are free to do this process again and the free testosterone may migrate to other cells and interact with them. This whole process doesn’t happen instantly, in fact it is quite a slow process which takes hours.
Another two properties worth mentioning in relation to muscle growth is that, firstly, testosterone has a marked effect on the release of IGF-1 (and also causes an increase in the number of IGF-1 receptor sites). Secondly, testosterone is also reported to enhance the the production of creatine in skeletal muscle.
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic steroids are synthetic compounds that resemble the natural hormone testosterone. Makers of anabolic steroids change the testosterone molecule slightly to change the balance of androgenic and anabolic effects, which can allow these drugs to build muscle with fewer masculinizing effects.
How are these drugs used?
To treat hypogonadism: Sometimes men (especially HIV-positive) develop low testosterone levels which can cause symptoms of fatigue, muscle wasting, low (or no) sex drive, impotence, and loss of facial or body hair. This condition is called hypogonadism. Hormone replacement therapy with synthetic testosterone may help to relieve those symptoms.
Women may also develop low testosterone levels and experience symptoms of fatigue, loss of sex drive, and a decreased sense of well-being. Because the androgenic (masculinizing) effects of testosterone and anabolic steroids can be permanent, researchers have been cautious about studying these drugs in women.
To treat weight loss: Anabolic steroids can be used in order to build muscle mass and improve strength and endurance. They can increase the body’s own ability to use protein to make muscle. Anabolics work best when combined with a high-protein diet and regular strength training.
Dosage: Testosterone, whether taken orally or by injection into muscle, is metabolised (broken down) very quickly and efficiently by the liver. New testosterone patches can be applied to the skin, allowing the hormone to be released slowly. Manufacturers of anabolic steroids change the testosterone molecule slightly so that their products are metabolised much more slowly, allowing the effects to last longer with less frequent dosing.
The use of anabolic steroids can raise blood levels of testosterone well above a person’s normal range. As a result, the body may try to regulate testosterone levels by shutting down its own production of testosterone. In order to prevent this, people usually use anabolics in cycles of a few weeks on and then off.
The dosage and cycle should be decided in consultation with a physician. Short cycles (6-8 weeks) are often the most beneficial, in order to minimise potential side effects and maximise potential benefit. Often the most muscle gain occurs in the first month of the cycle.
Many of the unwanted side effects of testosterone and anabolic steroids come from their androgenic properties. These drugs can raise blood levels of testosterone, causing side effects which vary from person to person.
The most common side effects in both men and women include increased facial and body hair, oily skin or acne, male pattern baldness, water retention, joint stiffness, erythropoesis (increased red blood cell production) and soreness at the injection site. Laboratory tests show increased levels of liver enzymes. A deepened or hoarsened voice, growth of the clitoris, and menstrual irregularities have been reported in women. The masculinizing side effects may be irreversible in women, even with short term use.
At higher doses over longer periods, increased or decreased sex drive, mood swings, aggressive behaviour, persistent painful erections, shrinking testicles (testicular atrophy), and breast growth (gynecomastia) have been reported in men. Long term use of high dose anabolics can damage the liver, causing jaundice, hepatitis, bleeding and possibly cancer!
There are a vast amount of testosterone products available from many different manufacturers. The most common prescription testosterone products are listed here. Following it is a more comprehensive list of testosterone drugs which are available.
Testosterone cypionate (sold as Depo-Testosterone Cypionate): Depo-Testosterone Cypionate is sustained longer in the body than most other anabolic steroids. A single injection of 200-400mg is given once every 2-4 weeks, then a rest period of 4 weeks, followed by another injection once every 2-4 weeks.
Transdermal testosterone (the “patch”): Testosterone patches allow a slow, steady release of the hormone into the body. The Testoderm patch is applied daily to a man’s shaved scrotum. The newer Androderm patch can be applied daily to the upper arms, back, thighs, or abdomen.
An interesting study into the use of the test. patch was done by Miller and colleagues. They conducted a 12-week pilot study of an experimental low-dose testosterone patch for women. Fifty-three HIV-positive women who had lost about 10% of their normal body weight, and whose blood levels of testosterone were below the normal reference range took part in the study. They were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo patch, a patch releasing 150 micrograms of testosterone daily, or a patch releasing 300 micrograms of testosterone daily. Although the patches restored testosterone levels to normal, only the women who had used the 150 microgram patch gained weight. Unfortunately, all of the weight gained was fat, not muscle mass.
Nandrolone decanoate (sold as Deca-Durabolin): Deca-Durabolin is probably the most popular anabolic used (not just in medicine!) in the treatment of HIV-related weight loss. It has a low rate of side effects and a high anabolic effect. The drug is given by injection into a muscle, at doses ranging from 50-200 mg, every 2-4 weeks for up to 12 weeks. After four weeks off the drug, another cycle of treatment can be started. The androgenic side effects of Deca-Durabolin are much milder than those of testosterone.
At doses of up to 100 mg every 3-4 weeks for up to 12 weeks, women may be able to use this drug. If any changes in menstrual periods occur, the drug should be stopped until the cause of such changes is discovered.
Oxandrolone (Oxandrin): This is an oral anabolic steroid. The androgenic effects are very low and side effects are few. The dosage for men is generally 15-40 mg daily and for women 5-20 mg daily.
Other Testosterone Products: AndroGel, Anadrol, Anapolon, Andriol, Androderm, Androstanolone, Deca-Durabolin, Dianabol, Durabolin, Dynabolon, Equipoise, Finaject, Finaplix, Laurabolin, Masteron, Methandriol, Methandriol Dipropionate, Methyltestosterone, Omnadren 250, Orabolin, Parabolan, Primobolan Depot, Primobolan Tablets, Primoteston Depot, Proviron, Sustenon, Stanazol, Stanozolol, Sten, Synthroid, Synovex, Testosterone Enanthate, Testosterone Heptylate, Testosterone Propionate, Testosterone Suspension, Testosterone Theramex, Testoviron Depot, Winstrol Depot and Winstrol Tablets.
Click ‘here’ for the 2015 ‘Practitioners guide to steroids’ for more information on common drugs available and the dosages being used. Please note, we DO NOT suggest you use steroids; we merely have a modern, sensible approach to the subject and believe that IF people choose to use them (and other compounds), then information to aid sensible use and not abuse is always a good thing. If anyone wishes to comment on the fact we have this link then feel free to contact us.