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Testosterone vs. Performance-Enhancing Steroids

Testosterone vs. Performance-Enhancing Steroids

By Mike Kocsis | 7 minutes read | Last updated: March 8, 2023
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  • Medically Reviewed by Dr. George Touliatos

    Evidence Based Research

    Testosterone and performance-enhancing steroids are closely related, but they are still different in many ways.

    Many men confuse testosterone with illegal steroid misuse because they are unaware of how both differ and what makes prescription testosterone beneficial and steroids dangerous. As a result, they never seek testosterone treatment that is FDA-approved and can help improve their quality of life.

    If you, too, have the same confusion, you have come to the right place. In this article, we have compared key differences between testosterone and performance-enhancing steroids. It will help you understand more about testosterone and will help you decide whether to seek treatment or not.

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    Testosterone

    Testosterone is an anabolic steroid hormone mainly produced by the testes in men and ovaries in women. Let’s break the term ‘anabolic steroid hormone’ into two parts to understand testosterone better.

    Anabolic: Something that stimulates the production of complex molecules to promote muscle growth and development.

    Steroid hormone: The kind of hormone that is made up of lipids. In contrast, non-steroid hormones are made up of proteins, modified amino acids, etc.

    Testosterone is primarily responsible for reproductive function in men. In addition, it also regulates muscle mass, red blood cell production, bone strength, and fat distribution.

    The hypothalamus and pituitary gland control its secretion. The hypothalamus secretes a gonadotropin-releasing hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland to produce luteinizing hormone. This hormone travels to the testes and activates testosterone synthesis.

    Testosterone circulates in the blood in two forms. One is the bound form in which testosterone is attached to sex hormone-binding globulin or albumin proteins; the other is the free or unbound form. The latter is considered biologically active.

    Testosterone levels fluctuate throughout a man’s life. They even change throughout the day. Morning testosterone levels are 20% to 40% higher than evening testosterone levels. That is why blood samples to identify testosterone levels are taken in the morning.

    Men with testosterone levels below 300 nanograms/deciliter (ng/dL) have a condition called low T. It can develop due to multiple reasons such as testicular cancer, head injury, or old age.

    Hormone specialists treat this condition with testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), in which they administer exogenous testosterone to bring blood testosterone levels back to normal.

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    Performance-enhancing steroids

    Performance-enhancing steroids are man-made chemicals that are structurally similar to testosterone and thus can attach to its cell receptors and activate different processes.

    Many people consume them to improve their athletic performance and build up muscle mass in a short time period. They are more common among bodybuilders and sportsmen.

    Steroids contain higher doses of testosterone and sometimes other chemicals as well, including insulin and human growth hormone, which can improve a man’s physique fast.

     

    How is TRT different from steroids?

    TRT and steroids contain somewhat similar ingredients i.e., testosterone. However, the key difference between them is the purpose of use and testosterone dosage.

    Purpose: TRT vs steroids

    TRT is a medically approved procedure done by health professionals to treat hypogonadism or low T. It aims to restore testosterone levels in men with abnormally low testosterone levels.

    Performance-enhancing steroids are consumed by men who have healthy testosterone levels. However, they still take them for non-medical purposes, such as to improve sports performance and build muscles.

    Dosage: TRT vs steroids

    During TRT, a healthcare professional first diagnoses your testosterone levels and then gives you the testosterone dose that can bring your testosterone levels within the normal range. They will keep optimising your dose throughout the treatment to ensure you get the most out of this treatment.

    Testosterone doses in steroids can be 10 to 100 times higher than what doctors normally prescribe. Thus, they increase your testosterone levels beyond the normal amount.

    Medical supervision: TRT vs steroids

    TRT is a medical procedure done by healthcare professionals. Your doctor will monitor your testosterone levels, symptoms, and side effects throughout the treatment. You will have TRT monitoring sessions every 6 months in the beginning and then will have annual sessions.

    Healthcare professionals do not supervise the non-prescription use of testosterone; hence, taking steroids can be very dangerous. You never realise how supercharged testosterone doses are affecting your internal organs and how high your blood testosterone levels are.

    Legality: TRT vs steroids

    TRT is a legal procedure all over the world because it is used to treat a medical condition. Comparatively, steroid misuse is considered illegal. Many professional sports organisations ban their use because it gives athletes an unfair advantage over others with normal testosterone levels. A sportsman can get suspended for taking testosterone doses without any medical need.

    Ongoing: TRT vs steroids

    TRT is a lifelong procedure. Once you start it, you will have to stick to it for your whole life to keep your testosterone levels consistent.

    Some men take steroids continuously, while others take them in a certain pattern. Steroid users are aware of their side effects, so they try to take them in a patricular pattern, believing it will reduce their side effects.

    For instance, some take steroids for a particular duration and then stop their consumption before they restart it. It is called ‘steroid cycling.’ Some men take a combination of multiple steroids to achieve maximum results. It is known as ‘steroid stacking.’

    Side effects: TRT vs steroids

    Both TRT and steroids have symptoms. But in the case of TRT, your doctor will monitor your side effects from time to time and optimise your testosterone dose accordingly. If you have more prominent side effects like acne, troubled breathing during sleep, and increased red blood cell count, your healthcare provider will most likely readjust your dose to reduce these symptoms.

    In contrast, steroid users take higher testosterone doses and do not monitor their effects. As a result, they experience certain psychological and physical side effects that can be life-threatening if steroid abuse is not stopped on time.

    Here are some physical side effects of steroids.

    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Low sperm count
    • Infertility
    • Enlarged male breasts
    • Increased risk of prostate cancer
    • High blood pressure
    • Increased risk of heart attack
    • Increased red blood cells count
    • Hair loss
    • Stomach pain
    • Acne
    • Internal organ damage (liver or kidney damage)

    Here are some psychological effects of steroids.

    • Mood swings
    • Aggression
    • Hallucination
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Paranoia

    Steroids can be addictive. You will crave more steroids once you start taking them. You will want to increase their dosage to feel more of their effects and feel withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking them.

     

    Consult a hormone specialist to bring your testosterone levels within the normal range

    Men with low T experience certain symptoms that can affect their quality of life. Some of these symptoms are:

    TRT is one of the most effective and popular ways of getting rid of these symptoms. Your doctor will give you exogenous testosterone, and you may notice the following effects after starting the therapy.

    • Improved sexual performance
    • Increased muscle mass
    • Improved bone health
    • Improved mood

    In the beginning, you will have a testosterone monitoring session every 3 to 6 months. Once your testosterone levels become consistent, you will most likely have one session per year.

    How does TRT work?

    There are different forms of TRT, including:

    • Creams or gels
    • Injections
    • Pellets
    • Patches
    • Tablets

    Each form has its unique benefits and disadvantages. A form that is suitable for you might not be suitable for another individual. You should discuss the effects of these forms with your doctor to create a personalised treatment plan based on your lifestyle, health history, and current testosterone levels.

     

    FAQs

    Are steroids allowed in the Olympics?

    No, the Olympics bans the use of illegal drugs, including steroids, that sportsmen take to enhance their athletic performance.

    How is testosterone level checked?

    Blood tests are conducted to check testosterone levels. Your sample will be taken early in the morning when testosterone levels are generally high. It will be sent to the lab, where blood constituents are calculated. The test will inform you about your total, free, and bound testosterone levels.

    Is TRT safe for all?

    TRT is a beneficial treatment, but it is not for all. Doctors usually do not prescribe TRT to men with certain medical conditions, such as prostate cancer, heart disease, etc., because it can aggravate these medical conditions.

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    Conclusion

    Steroids and prescription testosterone have similar chemical compositions to some extent. But they are different from each other based on their purpose of use and dosage.

    Men with low testosterone levels have TRT to bring their testosterone levels within the normal range. Steroid abusers already have normal testosterone levels but still consume it to achieve a certain physique or improve their sports performance. Steroid consumption is illegal, while TRT is legal.

    Taking steroids is dangerous and can produce life-threatening effects. You should never compromise your health to improve your appearance or performance. These things can be improved in other ways but you may not be able to regain your health once you lose it.

    Don’t hesitate to reach out and click the contact button above if you feel you may have a low T. We will evaluate your symptoms and health condition to determine whether you’re a TRT candidate. Once your condition has been analysed, we will prescribe you testosterone doses according to your needs.

     

    References/scientific studies/Further reading/Bibliography 

    Park, H.J., Ahn, S.T. and Moon, D.G., 2019. Evolution of guidelines for testosterone replacement therapy. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(3), p.410.

    Al-Zoubi, R.M., Yassin, A.A., Alwani, M., Al-Qudimat, A., Aboumarzouk, O.M., Zarour, A. and Al Ansari, A., 2021. A systematic review on the latest developments in testosterone therapy: Innovations, advances, and paradigm shifts. Arab Journal of Urology, 19(3), pp.370-375.

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    Evidence Based Research

    This article has been researched and written based on scientific evidence and fact sheets that have then been crossed checked by our team of doctors and subject matter experts.

    References, sources and studies used alongside our own in-house research have been cited below, most of which contain external clickable links to reviewed scientific paper that contain date stamped evidence.

    Our team of healthcare experts and GMC registered doctors are licensed to UK GMC standards. We strive to provide you with the latest evidence based, researched articles that are unbiased, honest and provide you with accurate insights, statistics and helpful information on the discussed topic to ensure you gain a better understanding of the subject. You can read more about our Editorial Process by clicking here.

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    About the Author: Mike Kocsis

    Mike KocsisMike Kocsis has an MBA with a focus on healthcare administration and is an entrepreneur and medical case manager for Balance My Hormones Ltd which offers medical services in the UK and Europe. Mike has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare sector, much of that working with people who have hormone imbalances. Mike has appeared on podcasts and radio and is an expert speaker on the subject of hormone imbalance. He specialises in Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and has helped thousands of people suffering from hormone imbalances recover and regain control of their lives. You can follow him on LinkedIn and on the Balance My Hormones YouTube Channel.

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