Anabolic Steroids: From The Beginning Years
At present time, there are several anabolic steroid derivatives that are available to us. We can enjoy a varied range of benefits with the help of these compounds. It is not just muscle mass gain or bone development that anabolic steroids help achieve. They are in fact used by medical practitioners to bring out critical beneficial changes in patients suffering from debilitating deficiencies and/ or injuries. Anabolic steroids may be prescribed by physicians to treat anemia, osteoporosis and to control breast cancer in women. In addition, these compounds are recommended for patients suffering from severe weight loss as a result of a serious illness.
There are several reasons behind the popularity of anabolic steroids among athletes. They enhance cellular tissue development, enhance speed and endurance and speed up recovery. This, in turn, allows athletes to train harder and longer.
There is no doubt that research into anabolic steroid and the resultant discoveries has transformed the way we live today. However, misinformation and a lack of proper understanding about these highly valuable compounds has led to the general feeling that anabolic steroids are harmful and dangerous.
To truly appreciate the benefits of these compounds it is important to see why research in this direction first began and how, despite immense challenges, scientists forged ahead to discover the true potential of these compounds. In the process we will follow their endeavors to learn more about the role of hormones and their many efforts to create substitutes for them.
The What, Where and How of Androgens
Today, many people assume that steroids and testosterone are synonymous. However, when one revisits the history of steroids, it becomes evident that researchers and scientists went through many difficulties to understand the key role played by testosterone and other androgenic hormones. In fact, it is more accurate to say that in the beginning, scientists working in the field of steroid research were floundering in the dark as regards the role played by various androgenic hormones in the human body. At this stage, the role of testosterone was not clearly known.
To understand how the anabolic steroid research story unfolded it becomes necessary to learn more about androgens.
The Production of Androgens in the Human Body
Androgens are sex steroid hormones that are chemically related. A steroid is a four ringed carbon atom core molecule. When enzymes act on the cholesterol core, pregnenolone, testosterone and other androgens are produced in the body. In vertebrates (including humans), androgens are created in the testes, ovaries and adrenal glands. However, the adrenal glands produce only a small amount of the total testosterone in our bodies.
Since testosterone is the hormone that is most relevant to this study of anabolic steroids, let’s take a more detailed look at how it is produced. It is in the reproductive organs that 95% of testosterone is created in this way:
Step 1: Hypothalamus (in the brain) detects the need for more testosterone
Testosterone and dihydrotestosterone are the primary androgens produced in this way. Androstenedione, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and 11-ketotestosterone are weaker androgens also produced in the human body in small amounts.
The Function of Androgens
Androgens work by docking with cell receptors. These receptors can be found in the liquid cytoplasm of the cells or on the cell’s membrane. Based on where the cell receptor is located, the binding with the receptor results in different outcomes.
Let’s take a detailed look at Testosterone: After Testosterone production, the hormone is sent into the bloodstream where it attaches itself to albumin and SHBG. A small percentage remains free and this keeps circulating in the blood stream. This free testosterone is the purest from of the hormone. It enters various cells and stimulates receptors to produce the benefits we often see such as enhanced virility or muscle growth. When the hypothalamus detects enough Testosterone in the bloodstream, signals are sent to the pituitary gland to cease producing this hormone.
The predominant impact of androgen production is witnessed on the male sexual development and traits as well as female sexual behavior. However, in adults, hormones are found to influence muscle mass and bone development significantly. Deficient androgen production has various consequences. The most relevant of these with respect to this study is reduced bone mass, increased body fat, lethargy/ fatigue, reduced muscle mass and depleted strength.
The Beginnings of Anabolic Steroid Research
It was back in the 1930’s that scientists created a synthetic form of the male hormone testosterone for the very first time in human history. Their objective was to treat men who suffered from the inability to produce adequate amounts of this hormone to support normal body functions including proper growth, sexual functioning and age proportionate development. However, study into the development of artificial forms of androgens was common even in the 1800’s. Several animal studies made their way into the public eye at this time and these laid the basis for later studies and research in this field as well as for developments related to endocrinology. Experimental androgen injections were successfully developed by the end of the century.
The synthesis of the testosterone structure in the 1930’s brought the attention of the medical community to this field of research and development. At this point of time, the researchers and scientists were solely focusing their energies on the use of testosterone in a therapeutic manner. In fact, this hormone and its synthetic versions were widely popularized as the ‘elixir of youth’ by many researchers the world over.
Synthetic testosterone was later also used during the World War II . During this time, the hormone was given to soldiers who suffered from malnourishment and it helped them gain body weight and perform better in the battlefield. However, the use of artificial/ synthetic formulations to enhance body weight, strength and performance was not a new concept even at this early age.
It was at this point in time that scientists also discovered another interesting fact- that the estrogenic, androgenic and anabolic activity of these hormones could be modified by tweaking their molecular structures . This discovery took researchers down a new path. Now they wanted to create a synthetic hormone that would only give the user the beneficial effects of hormone ingestion while insulating him/ her from the other side effects. In effect, they wanted to develop a ‘pure’ anabolic steroid that would encompass immense strength yet have negligible estrogenic and androgenic properties. The ingestion of this kind of ‘pure’ steroid would help the user gain the desirable outcomes of heightened energy and stamina and lean muscle gain. By the time the 1950’s rolled by, scientists had developed more than 1000 synthetic/ artificial hormones. Sadly, none of them were ‘pure’ steroids that could offer solely anabolic benefits and not display androgenic or estrogenic properties.
However, it would be wrong to think that humans have used performance enhancers only in the Modern Age. There is historic evidence of the ancients having used them to enhance their performance in various events. During the very first Olympic games, athletes ingested animal testicles over extended periods right before they had to participate in an event. Thus, we know that even during the ancient times (776 to 393 BC) use of external performance enhancers was not only known but actually implemented. The word ‘dope’ may, in fact, be traced back to the viscous opium juice of ‘doop’ as the Dutch called it. ‘Doop’ was ingested by the ancient Greek athletes to improve their showing at Olympic events.
Anabolic Steroid Use Becomes Popular
By the late 1930’s, research into steroids had become very commonplace. In fact by the end of this decade, humans were being given testosterone propionate injections. In the 1940’s, use of anabolic steroids was quite a common occurrence in the Soviet Union. This contributed immensely to the success that the people of this country enjoyed in international sporting events.
It was in 1952 that the Soviet use of steroids first came to light. The wrestling team of this country was in the spotlight for enhancing their performance with these compounds. In 1953, 19-nortestosterone, the first anabolic steroid was synthesized. This derivative had almost 3 to 5 times the muscle building ability of testosterone. Dr. John Ziegler, U.S. Coach, learned about the steroid use from a Soviet coach during the weight lifting championships held in Vienna in 1954 and he was inspired to carry out his own experiments.
The United States soon followed suit with Dr. John Ziegler’s development of methandrostenolone. This U.S. Olympic team physician is credited with the creation of the product more commonly known as Dbol or Dianabol. First marketed by Ciba, Dbol was approved for human use by the FDA in 1958. This heralded much research into methods of synthesizing anabolic steroids and its derivatives.
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