How Do Anabolic Steroids Work? What Do They Do In Body?

Last Updated: October 26, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Anabolic steroids are popular medicine for athletes and people fond of body improvement. In spite of positive visual effect, steroids mechanism of action can make noticeable changes inside the body. Because of this reason, one should know how anabolic steroids work and be prepared when using them.

What Do Anabolic Steroids Do?

What everybody knows is that sportspeople use this medication paired with training, but what steroids do to the body is not widely known. Their main function is to help an organism in building new body muscles. Among others, anabolic steroids usage increases the number of blood cells, help to rebuild bones, as well as increase nerve conduction. For those who are actively engaged in physical activity, they can improve performance and shorten the recovery period after exercise stress.

What Are Steroids Made Of?

To specify how anabolic steroids are made, one needs to remember that their natural prototype is male hormone testosterone. For this reason, an active component of any brand is either derived from it directly or is its synthetic version. Other than that, what’s in steroids is mostly determined by the dosage form. The formula may include:

  • water (topical gels and solutions)
  • alcohol (topical gels and solutions)
  • oil (topical gels and solutions; intramuscular injections)
  • preservatives
  • stabilizers

How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?

Anabolic steroids mechanism of action consists of two parallel processes, which sometimes makes it difficult to understand. On the one side, when the AAS molecules get inside the body, cells that have receptors for body testosterone identify them as the same substance and activate. As a result of this, part of these cells produce proteins, which the body uses to build new cells. Newly produced cells then create new muscles and tissues. At the same time, another part of the body cells reacts to AAS presence by blocking glucocorticoids reception. These are hormones that usually accelerate the process of molecules like proteins splitting up into amino acids for energy (catabolism). So, when they are blocked, more proteins are available for new cells. The less catabolic reaction also means a shorter recovery period. That is, essentially, how steroids work in the body.

do steroids make you stronger

Do Steroids Make One Stronger?

The action of AAS in the body suggests the increase in muscle mass for an average person; still, one might question the strength increase in practice. According to the 2018 meta-analysis of this drug’s effect on a body, there was noticed an increase in lean mass for the group taking AAS. The benefits of steroids do not end there, as the data showed 52% greater increase in strengths for them than for people in the placebo group. Such a noticeable difference in results and the scale of the study prove that this medication does make the average person stronger, and it is reasonable to use them for such purpose.

Do Steroids Burn Fat?

This drug is associated with fat loss; however, it does not burn fat directly. Based on the mechanism of AAS action, they stimulate muscle growth and, at the same time, prevent the loss of muscle mass in case of fasting or stress – the cases when glucocorticoids are released. This way, when a person cuts diet, trains, and takes these pills in the same period, they lose calories and burn fat as any other person. It’s just that the lean mass increases in a more distinguishable amount.

How Do Steroids Affect The Brain?

The general effects of steroids on the brain are hormonal. The report of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that, first of all, they directly influence the processes related to the development of male characteristics. Secondly, it affects calcium production and, hence, its amount increases in the brain itself, heart and skeletal muscle. Because of calcium, nerve conduction in the body is improved.

The negative effects are the potential increase of anxiety and dysfunction in brain region corrected to gain a reward. The latter was currently only observed in animals. However, these might be the reasons to consider the alternative to steroids. Among other things, the organism experiences hormonal shock at the end of the AAS course, while the brain needs time to rearrange its processes. This is the reasoning why taper steroids.

how long do steroids take to work

How Long Does It Take For Steroids To Work?

How fast steroids work very much depends on the type of drug one chooses to use and their organism specifics. Namely, there are different types of AAS from mild to strong in their hormone concentration. Consequently, they will have different effects on the body.

The same way, how long for steroids to work in women and men of different natural levels of testosterone differs significantly. On the average one should expect results in the same period that the usual training programs require. That would be at least one week for some changes and at least a month for visible results.

Keep Caution With AAS Use

AASs are testosterone-related medicine which effect is mainly the creation and preservation of muscles, increasing body strength. At the same time, this medication should be used with caution as some negative effects on the brain were found. In case of misuse, especially if mixing alcohol and steroids, one should seek professional help in addiction centers and rehabilitation facilities. With the right course of treatment for drug abuse, the patients will experience fast recovery and long-lasting results.

Page Sources

  1. Anabolic Steroids. Center for Substance Abuse Research. 2013.
  2. Andrews M. A., Magee C. D., Combest T. M., Allard R. J., Douglas K. M. Physical Effects of Anabolic-androgenic Steroids in Healthy Exercising Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2018;17(7): 232-241. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000500.
  3. Steroids and Other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs (APEDs). National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2018.

Published on: August 16th, 2019

Updated on: October 26th, 2020

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.


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