How Steroids Affect Male Fertility

Arnolds, gym candy, pumpers, roids, stackers, weight trainers, and juice: what do they all have in common? They’re all reasons why men today are becoming less fertile; more specifically, they are all nicknames for anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). Today, there are more than three million AAS users in the United States alone, and this number is growing rapidly.

Much of the men’s health field today is focused on finding ways to fight the fatigue that many men are facing at work and at home; researchers have worked on developing ways to increase energy (and sex drive) in order to build a family. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness among young men surrounding the effects of steroids and hormonal medications has led many to experience the negative effects of androgens: these effects are most evident during puberty, when natural androgens induce physical growth, hair growth pattern, sperm maturation, and that characteristic sex drive found in growing young men.

How can the chemicals that cause puberty in men have a negative effect on their bodies?

Today, increasing numbers of men, including teenagers, are now adding extra doses of these chemicals, in the form of steroids, into their body  to help build up muscle bulk in an attempt to make themselves look and feel  more “manly.” However, in many ways it actually has the opposite effect.

Testosterone is the hormone that naturally assists sperm production. While you might think that adding more testosterone to your body would increase your sperm production, anabolic steroids containing testosterone actually block the body’s natural production of testosterone in the testicles by tricking the brain into thinking that enough of the hormone as already been made (for more specific information about the negative effects of too much testosterone, see our recent blog post).

While your muscles may be getting bigger, you’re likely to be at risk for steroid-induced hypogonadism, the shrinking of the testicles due to the lack of natural testosterone being created in the body. When the testicles shrink and do not produce sperm, you’re likely to experience problems conceiving.

While the effects of temporary steroid use can be reversed in 1-2 years, if used for long enough and in high enough doses, the damage to male fertility can become permanent.

Take the case of Bradley Goldman, a fitness and nutrition consultant in Los Angeles with more than 10,000 followers on his fitness Instagram account. From the ages of 18 to 30 years old, Bradley took steroids in order to maintain his physique and build muscle mass. He began to inject himself with testosterone because his body could no longer produce it naturally. Unfortunately, when he and his wife decided they wanted to become pregnant, a semen analysis showed that his sperm count was zero. When his doctor recommended, he stop taking the steroids, his sperm count began to climb slowly, but his sex drive withered as well as his energy and 30 pounds of muscle. His doctor informed him that in a single sample of ejaculation, which usually contains 100-200 million sperm, he only  had 13 viable sperm, giving his wife a chance of only one in 100,000 of getting pregnant. Heartbreaking news for any guy trying to become a dad.

When many young men begin taking steroids, they often are not even close to the phase of their lives where they would consider the possibility of fatherhood. Education on the issue alone is probably not the way to stop the use of  anabolic steroids, especially considering the legality of some of the drugs among athletes today. However, the lack of awareness has had many negative long-term effects on fertility around the country and around the world today. Given the hush-hush underground culture around steroid use, this issue is only beginning to be understood by researchers, scientists,  and doctors alike.

References

“Anabolic Steroids and Their Effect on Male Fertility.” NHS Choices, NHS, 16 Aug. 2016.

El Osta, Rabih. “Anabolic Steroids Abuse and Male Infertility.” Basic and Clinical Andrology, vol. 26, no. 2, 6 Feb. 2016.

Krans, Brian. “How Steroids, Testosterone Supplements Can Decrease Fertility in Men.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 10 June 2019.

Oaklander, Mandy. “The Silent Shame of Male Infertility.” Time, Time USA, 3 Jan. 2019.