Anabolic steroids have lifelong effects on the heart, 2 studies show

Two recent studies found anabolic steroids have lifelong effects on the heart years after men stopped using them.

Anabolic steroids — synthetic hormones that mimic testosterone — are used to increase muscle mass and athletic performance. Several studies have found immediate side effects, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke and liver or kidney failure, but two international studies found the effects can last years after steroid use stops, according to a May 13 news release from the European Society of Endocrinology.

One study examined 64 healthy men in Denmark. Of the participants, 28 were using anabolic steroids, 22 were former users and 14 had never used. Researchers assess how much blood flowed to their heart muscle when resting and exercising and found both former and current users had poor blood flow.

"Previous studies have shown that the heart function almost normalizes after anabolic steroids are discontinued, but our study suggests that former anabolic steroid users are at an increased risk of heart disease years after stopping as cardiac microcirculation — the blood flow through the smallest vessels in the circulatory system — seems persistently impaired," lead author Yeliz Bulut, MD, said in a the release. "The previous use of anabolic steroids could be a new risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease."

The second study measured testosterone levels in the blood samples of three groups of men: 89 current steroid users, 61 former users and 30 men who had never used steroids. Researchers found former users reported worse quality of life in their physical and mental health and had lower testosterone levels compared to those who had never used steroids.

"Steroid side effects among former users seem to persist for a much longer period than we have known until now. We hope our results on these long-term health risks will prevent men from using anabolic androgenic steroids," Dr. Bulut said.

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