Whither or not?
Sit too close to the T.V and your eyes will go square. Quit making goofy faces, if the wind changes it’ll stay like that. Swallow chewing gum and it stays in your system for life. Do that to yourself too much and you’ll go blind. Don’t use steroids, they shrink your balls.
Ridiculous, right? Old wives tales the lot of them. Well for the most part, sure. Unfortunately though, one of these late night campfire classics is very much medical fact. You’re a smart bunch, you know what we’re about by now, so we’re going to assume you’ve already guessed which one.
Yup. You can sit millimetres from a T.V, downing wads of gum and pulling weird faces – or whatever else you feel like puling – no harm done. Start regularly using steroids however and you’ll quickly notice a couple of small drawbacks. Literally.
Look, obviously at HowToLiveHealthy we favour keeping things natural. We’d hope because you’re reading our stuff, you do too. But that doesn’t mean we don’t understand the lure of something offering massive physical gains. If you’re goal is serious size and power improvements, performance enhancers can be tempting. We get that.
So this article won’t be us sitting smugly on any moral high ground shouting down small ball jokes. Its purpose is just to put the effects of steroid use on your testicles under the microscope (sorry, last one.) We’re writing this to help you make your own informed decision.
This downstairs downsizing we’re talking about is technically known as testicular atrophy. Atrophy simply refers to anything which starts off at its expected size then reduces over time.
Testicular atrophy usually occurs when output of the two main cells operating in our healthy set are disrupted.
As long as the Leydig cells, responsible for T production and the germ cells, in charge of making sperm, are firing on all cylinders, you’ll have a pair to be proud off. If these cells are allowed to down tools for too long though, atrophy becomes a real risk.
If you still think shrinking balls is something plucked from a 1950s public information film to keep you off performance enhancing drugs, you should know that steroid use isn’t the only cause.
Old age, specific injuries, certain autoimmune conditions, an inguinal hernia and some recreational drugs can all trigger testicular atrophy.
To understand why androgenic-anabolic steroids are such a problem for your system’s natural order, we have to consider two things.
Firstly, most of your body works off a finely tuned supply and demand system. In the case of testosterone production this is governed by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonodal axis (HPG).
This relays messages between the hypothalamus in your brain and the pituitary gland in your balls. When you need more T the HPG signals to step it up, when you’ve reached your safe limit it puts the word out to touch the brakes.
The second thing you need to appreciate is what anabolic steroids actually are. As we’ve mentioned before on this site, basically it’s synthetic, lab made testosterone able to mimic your natural hormone’s effects on the body.
Taking on this external hormone allows us to ignore our nature’s inbuilt upper limits. Limits designed to best sustain the healthiest overall balance.
You see the issue here then. Keep importing masses of T and our brain will start telling our balls it’s got more than enough, the lads on the ground floor can take a load off.
Get that message too often and eventually those cells in your testicles we talked about will effectively be out of a job. So they just stop working, opening us up to the possibility to a drastic drop in ball size.
Think of it this way, what if you’re the main cook in your house and suddenly you’re coming home to find folk knocking back takeout?
Eventually you’re going to stop bothering to make anything. You might even start to wonder if you really need that big of a kitchen.
Wow, tough crowd, man.
Okay, well take a 1997 study from Cardiff Infirmary in Wales, which gave questionnaires to 100 steroid users found that 88% of the subjects had experienced side effects as a result. 40% reported they had suffered testicular atrophy.
A bigger study in 2005 which took in 207 bodybuilders with a history of steroid use also found testicle reduction was a danger. In amongst reports of acne, gynecomastia (man boobs), abnormal hair growth and increased blood pressure. 8% identified their testicles as having shrunk. A small percentage admittedly, but a percentage who were definitely small.
Individual case studies often don’t make for great reading either. For instance the tragic example of a 30 year old competitive bodybuilder who collapsed and died after a weightlifting session. He had been using steroids for six months and was found to have not just testicular atrophy but abnormal muscle development and liver damage.
Does size matter?
In this context, absolutely. This isn’t a nouvelle cuisine type deal where they’re small but still top quality. Far more likely, atrophy will have negative domino effects on proper function.
Remember it’ll be more than just Leydig cells taking a hit, you’re putting the squeeze on sperm producing cells too. A 2001 study of 30 men on anabolic steroids reported that only 17.7% of subjects managed normal sperm levels.
More generally, if we’re interrupting your body’s natural flow of T for prolonged periods of time, we are at a much higher risk of libido loss, erectile dysfunction and infertility.
Too late to reinflate?
One silver lining here is that in most cases size loss due to steroid use is temporary. Once we’ve stopped ordering in (as it were) eventually our trusty old HPG will come out of early retirement and pick up where it left off.
This takes time of course. The longer natural processes have been out of action the longer it takes to them to get back up to speed. This could leave a time when neither internal nor external T is picking up the slack. That’s why if you’re planning to stop steroids, it’s advisable to consult a doctor.
It’s worth noting that although things tend to right themselves in the short term, long effects of the turning our HPG off are not fully understood.
If we had to guess we’d say they’re not good. Try flooring the accelerator then slamming the brakes on regularly in your car and see how far you get before something goes wrong with it. [Editor: Please don’t try that.]
So it’s true that most of users’ dangly duo will get a do-over. But it’s also true that if people who have taken steroids for a years, loss of natural T output can be irreversible.
Better avoided than roided
So this will come as no surprise to you. We’re dead against the use of anabolic steroids and wouldn’t recommend them to anyone.
Apart from anything else, they’re not the shortcut a lot of people think they are. Steroids might give you cartoon-like growth, but they’re not exactly Popeye’s spinach. You’ve still got to put the work in. Which, in our minds at least, kind of begs the question, why bother?
Why rely on a cocktail of risky steroids to fuel your hard work? You’ve got the perfectly safe mix of natural T, drive, focus and determination.
By all means improve your performance, increase that power and make those gains. But don’t do it at the cost of your health and make sure you take everything along for the ride. No body part left behind!