Steroids certainly have a stigma associated with them despite their prevalent use for medicinal purposes. Some of it may have to do with high-profile instances in professional sports or its sometimes negative portrayal in pop culture. In reality, steroids have been used for decades to treat conditions from arthritis to stunted growth in children.
Steroids have many of these life-changing uses, yet they are still met with a side eye when spoken about openly. This is curious because many people have started to consider testosterone as a valid alternative to steroids, as a safer and possibly more efficient substitute. The truth is, testosterone IS a steroid. While some may find this news not surprising, the myth continues to perpetuate that steroids are bad for you and result in an array of negative effects. Today, we aim to clear some of these myths about testosterone replacement therapy and shed a little positive light on one of the most effective and beneficial hormone treatments in the world.
Myth: Testosterone will cause undue stress on my liver or even give me liver cancer.
False. No currently available forms of testosterone cause any stress or negative effects on our liver. The same goes for liver cancer – it simply isn’t a concern because it doesn’t affect it. That being said, there was a time in the past when oral testosterone medications required the body to chemically break them down, in part, in the liver. Large amounts of testosterone would obviously require more from the liver to break down, heavily burdening the organ. So while this myth originated in a degree of fact, it is no longer the case, and that is why the hormone is generally injected rather than taken orally.
Myth: It causes prostate cancer.
False. The truth is that not enough testosterone is linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Previously we’ve learned that testosterone drastically dwindles as we age, so taking testosterone hormone therapy may actually prevent prostate cancer!
The origin of this idea is an interesting example of how far we’ve come in terms of learning about our bodies and old, erroneous medical practices from the past. In the 1960s a urologist named Charles B. Huggins drew a parallel (incorrectly) to testosterone and prostate cancer and even won a Nobel Prize for his discovery. Since then, with more advanced testing and equipment, we’ve discovered this to be false.
Myth: It will shrink my testicles.
Mostly False. This is another myth that does have some basis in fact. When the body accepts outside sources of testosterone, it will usually begin to suppress its own production in an effort to regulate. Since the majority of testosterone production occurs in the testes, this results (sometimes) in a shrinking of the testicles. While this may be alarming, what isn’t usually mentioned when this is brought up is that this is very short-lived and reverses itself when external testosterone is slowed or ceased.
Myth: It will make me sterile.
False but still with a foundation in fact. If the testes begin to suppress testosterone production, it will usually result in a lowered semen count. In some cases, the semen count stops entirely. Fortunately, like with the shrinking effect, this is quickly and easily reversed when external injections are slowed or ceased.
Myth: It will give me gynecomastia (i.e. “man boobs”)
False. For an in-depth look at gynecomastia and what causes it, check out this nifty article from the Mayo Clinic because you are an educated and well-informed reader. For those who want a simpler version, gynecomastia is when excess fat develops in the breast tissue of a male. This occurs because the ratio of estrogen to testosterone is too high. Since a balance of testosterone and estrogen is necessary for homeostasis, an excess of either (whether from an actual overproduction or the result of underproduction from the other side) isn’t ordinarily a good thing. In the case of estrogen, it will bind to male breast tissue and begin protein transcription.
What is ironic, though, is that testosterone does not cause gynecomastia at all, it’s the absence of it. Low testosterone isn’t so much an “if” as a “when” for men when they age and this is partly why it is more prevalent in older men. To be fair, improper use of testosterone and improper cycling processes may result in excess estrogen presence, but this is almost entirely in cases where a proper health care provider wasn’t even involved (as in illegally obtained anabolic steroids for muscle growth).
Myth: I will become a hulking behemoth of muscle.
False. Testosterone affects every man’s muscles differently. While it is entirely possible to become extremely large (i.e. like a bodybuilder), that is a very specific, desired outcome. Testosterone therapy is more geared toward bringing a balance to a lack of proper production or to curing an ailment. This is a case of steroid use in popular culture focusing on a very particular type of use, as, in order to gain additional muscle mass, it requires taking amounts of testosterone well above what is used for normal hormone replacement therapy.
Myth: I will become an unstable anger machine (i.e. “roid rage”).
False. This myth is closely tied with the previous one in terms of how it is portrayed in pop culture. As stated a few times previously, TRT is for balance and well-being, and the “roid rage” aspect is a result of an improper balance of hormones and, more so, personality. Aggressiveness and violent behavior is actually more attributed to a person’s background and experiences over an excess of testosterone.
While an imbalance can certainly take some responsibility in unstable emotional reactions, this image comes from the bodybuilder myths. It is more likely that the personalities of the individuals (ones that are risk takers, more likely to abuse illegal steroids and other drugs, etc) have a much greater influence on this legend, and excess testosterone simply exacerbates an already present affliction.
On top of that, it’s commonly observed that men with low testosterone tend to be more aggressive and irritable! This is colloquially seen as the “angry old man” trope, as older men have a significantly lowered level of testosterone.
So once again, testosterone is not only not the cause of this myth, but could actually be a cure for it! You can learn more about that in our related blog post.
Some of you may feel that this article doesn’t apply to you as a woman. Don’t worry! Your version is hitting the blog next week, so stay tuned for Testosterone Myths – Female Edition!