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Insider Controversy

Victoria Felkar MA, BKIN
Victoria Felkar is an instructor and internationally renowned junior scholar completing doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia. She is a social and cultural sport historian with a special interest in physical culture, medical and criminological knowledge, performance enhancement, and her research has achieved international publication and award. Victoria’s background in exercise physiology and biomedicine has provided the perfect platform for her pioneering work in the critical study of social ethics, hormonal manipulation and performance enhancing technologies. Outside of her studies Victoria is the owner and operator of a successful independent fitness consulting firm – working with top level athletes and various organizations within the health and fitness industry.
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Women and steroids isn’t a topic you can simply search the Internet for or just ask a random bro!

The Enigma of Anabolics for Her

I’ve become disgusted with overly simplistic discussions of female anabolic androgen steroid (AAS) use. The topic of women and steroids is by no means “easy” to comprehend.

To fully understand this topic requires challenging personal beliefs about biological differences between the sexes, typical “masculine” or “feminine” characteristics, and knowledge about the body. It involves understanding physiology, biomedicine, the endocrine system, hormones, and androgens specifically, while not forgetting to mix in “personalized medicine,” a method emphasizing evaluation and programming based on the individual and her uniquely dynamic characteristics. It demands a grasp of the physical and chemical properties of AAS, and basic clinical pharmacology of the effects of specific compounds is also essential.

The point is, women and steroids isn’t a topic for which you can simply search the Internet or ask a random bro. It’s an intricate subject and one that is, frankly, an enigma.

As an academic researcher, I’m not writing this as a scare tactic. In fact, I’m very critical of, and often appalled by, pseudoscientific, unethical, and propaganda-like scholarly publications preaching the “evils” of steroid use without citing relevant studies. Nothing irks me more than reading information, hearing conversations, and seeing firsthand the damaging results of uneducated and ill-informed bro-pharmacists. I recognize the dangerous influence of Dr. Juice; the contest prep cocktail isn’t just a concern for females but one for all AAS users, but a woman’s body is complicated.

Although AAS are a class of drugs often containing synthetic testosterone, we all have this steroidal hormone flowing naturally in our bodies. Of course there are large variations in natural (endogenous) levels of testosterone. Since we’re talking about women specifically, it should be noted that some females have high levels of androgens. In fact, androgen excess is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age.

Women naturally produce steroids in various parts of their bodies—primarily the adrenal glands and ovaries. Other tissues such as fat and skin can also assist in converting weak androgens to stronger ones. Furthermore, some women with excess androgens may have excess levels of circulating insulin (insulin resistance), which has a massive effect on metabolic function, and can manifest in a wide range of symptoms, including weight gain and lethargy. High androgens are also a common marker for an endocrine disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Currently there’s no research discussing how AAS may interact with PCOS, metabolic function, or the body’s ability to create and use androgens naturally.

All of this medical mumbo jumbo is hugely important to remember when discussing women and steroids for many reasons, including the fact that people seem to think the female body lacks any amount of androgens to begin with. Furthermore, there appears to be a complete lack of regard for the variance in natural levels of androgens, and the different ways in which women can metabolize these steroids. I told you, we’re complicated. But guess what? All of this gets more complex when you add in our abysmal knowledge of steroids in general.

No Knowledge vs. Bro Knowledge
For over 50 years, AAS has been surrounded by controversy and panic, which unfortunately has limited academically sound and clinically applicable information. The studies that do exist often pertain to the use of AAS for medical treatment or are concerned with self-administration by males—neither can be translated to female use!

Where do you go, then, to learn about women and steroids? Internet forums, of course! And if that doesn’t work, hire a prep coach. If those thoughts crossed your mind, please give yourself a very hard smack, as that assumption couldn’t be more wrong (and dangerous). Ladies, please understand this:

Your prep coach is not a researcher and Internet forums aren’t medical textbooks. Many times the information isn’t even on the specific compound you are looking for because—surprise—anabolic steroids are sold on the black market. They’re unregulated and not controlled for purity or strength. Thus, there’s a high chance they’ve been cross-contaminated. Please note that a little sticker saying “pharmaceutical grade” means absolutely nothing. Even if you determine a particular steroid is acceptable for personal use, you’ll be lucky to get your hands on a bottle actually containing the desired drug. And this matters! For men this is important, but for women it’s absolutely crucial. Although health risks exist with any AAS, there are certain properties associated with specific compounds that may pose less of a risk for some women.

The effects of female hormone manipulation are unknown. Different AAS elicit different anabolic and androgen responses, such as changes to rates of muscle growth, acne, hirsutism (abnormal hair growth), and reproductive dysfunction. These vary from drug to drug, and are often described in the form of a ratio. For example, synthetic testosterone has an anabolic to androgenic ratio of 1:1. There’s a sickening sense of “protection” associated with specific drugs due to this ratio. An assumed safety net has been cast over certain drugs deemed “okay” for female consumption simply because they have lower androgenic activity. This notion not only is irresponsible and foolish but has also created a lack of critical thinking around female anabolic use. It amazes me that someone will prep for months but not try to truly understand the drugs she’s putting into her body, and the influence on her health.

Before I get off my soapbox, please know I’m all for personal choice. I respect an individual’s decision to build her body, but regarding AAS, there is a responsibility to understand risks, rewards, and long-term consequences of usage. Who you are today may not reflect who you want to be tomorrow. While you may want to be the next Ms. Olympia today, life changes and your health changes. If you want to learn more about steroids for female users, start with the basics of human physiology. Work with a health care practitioner to track your sex hormones and menstruation patterns, and know the interaction of these on the endocrine system. Learn from reliable sources available on AAS.

Ladies, you’ve only got one body, so get smart, be informed, and always put your health first.

For more articles from Victoria, check out her column, "Insider Controversy", here!