Anabolics (9th Edition)
Anabolic steroids are a class of medications that contain a synthetically manufactured form of the hormone testosterone, or a related compound that is derived from (or similar in structure and action to) this hormone. In order to fully grasp how anabolic steroids work, it is, therefore, important to understand the basic functioning of testosterone.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone. It is manufactured by the Leydig’s cells in the testes at varying amounts throughout a person’s life span. The effects of this hormone become most evident during the time of puberty, when an increased output of testosterone will elicit dramatic physiological changes in the male body. This includes the onset of secondary male characteristics such as a deepened voice, body and facial hair growth, increased oil output by the sebaceous glands, development of sexual organs, maturation of sperm, and an increased libido. Indeed the male reproductive system will not function properly if testosterone levels are not significant. All such effects are considered the masculinizing or “androgenic” properties of this hormone.
Increased testosterone production will also cause growth promoting or”anabolic” changes in the body, including an enhanced rate of protein synthesis (leading to muscle accumulation). Testosterone is the reason males carry more muscle mass than women, as the two sexes have vastly contrasting amounts of this hormone. More specifically, the adult male body will manufacture between 2.5 and 11 mg per day’ while females only produce about 1/4mg. The dominant sex hormone for women is estrogen, which has a significantly different effect on the body. Among other things, a lower androgen and higher estrogen level will cause women to store more body fat, accumulate less muscle tissue, have a shorter stature, and become more apt to bone weakening with age (osteoporosis).
The actual mechanism in which testosterone elicits these changes is somewhat complex. When free in the blood stream, the testosterone molecule is available to interact with various cells in the body. This includes skeletal muscle cells, as well as skin, scalp, kidney, bone, central nervous system, and prostate tissues. Testosterone binds with a cellular target in order to exert its activity, and will, therefore, effect only those body cells that posses the proper hormone receptor site (specifically the androgen receptor). This process can be likened to a lock and key system, with each receptor (lock) only being activated by a particular type of hormone (key). During this interaction, the testosterone molecule will become bound to the intracellular receptor site (located in the cytosol, not on the membrane surface), forming a new “receptor complex.” This complex (hormone + receptor site) will then migrate to the cell’s nucleus, where it will attach to a specific section of the cell’s DNA, referred to as the hormone response element. This will activate the transcription of specific genes, which in the case of a skeletal muscle cell will ultimately cause (among other things) an increase in the synthesis of the two primary contractile proteins, actin and myosin (muscular growth). Carbohydrate storage in muscle tissue may be increased due to androgen action as well.
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