Millions of people in the United States and across the world have used, or are using, anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) to build muscle and improve performance. However, such individuals may be exposing themselves to the risk of early coronary artery disease, according to research.
Researchers from Brazil reported that young men who used AAS suffered from coronary atherosclerosis, based on findings in a small study.
The substance users also had lower levels of beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL). This increased their risk of nasty cardiovascular issues.
“Anabolic androgen steroid abuse among young people is a widespread problem worldwide, and adverse events such as sudden death and heart attack have been reported in athletes,” said Francis Ribeiro de Souza, study’s lead author.
Findings by de Souza at the Heart Institute of the Medical School, University of Sao Paolo, and his colleagues were presented at the 2017 edition of the Brazilian Congress of Cardiology.
Brazil is one of the leading countries around the world with serious steroid abuse issues among its young people. De Souza noted that these substances, which are the “seventh most commonly used drug” in this South American country, where used by roughly one million people at least once.
Probing the link between steroids and early coronary artery disease
The Brazilian researchers enlisted 51 men aged 23 to 43 years – an average age of 29 – for their study. The participants were either weightlifters or sedentary, healthy individuals.
There was a group of 21 weightlifters who had used anabolic steroids for a minimum of two years. Another group comprised of 20 men who did weightlifting but did not use these substances. The final group had 10 sedentary, but healthy men.
The scientists carried out urine tests to confirm steroid use by subjects. They used computed tomography coronary angiography to look for signs of atherosclerosis.
The men had their blood samples taken and evaluated for amounts of lipids, including HDL. Cell cultures were also done to check if the HDL of the subjects was functioning as it ought to in eliminating cholesterol from white blood cells.
Higher risk of early coronary artery disease
Researchers observed that some in the steroid group (about 24 percent) had atherosclerosis present in their coronary arteries. However, weightlifters that did not use steroids and subjects in the sedentary group showed no atherosclerosis.
In addition, it was found that participants having atherosclerosis had significantly lower HDL levels. Their HDL was also less able to perform its normal function.
“We observed coronary atherosclerosis in young anabolic androgenic steroid users, which in combination with lower HDL levels and reduced HDL function could increase the risk of cardiovascular events,” de Souza said.
The lead author did admit that the sample size was small and that the study was merely observational. He, however, noted that the findings implied the need for larger studies to investigate the seeming relationship.