Steroid Abuse Linked to Impaired Testicular Function

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According to a study, anabolic steroid abuse can cause impaired testicular function in men even after they’ve stopped taking them.

Despite being illegal, anabolic steroid abuse is common among athletes and bodybuilders. However, in recent years, its prevalence has significantly increased among non-athletes, especially young boys. Anabolic steroids are the synthetic form of the naturally occurring hormone, testosterone. Although found both in males and females, testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men. It plays a major part in the development of reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics. Moreover, it improves athletic performance and one’s muscular appearance. Although steroid abuse can cause testosterone deficiency, its long-term effects on testicular function are unclear.

In the past, researchers used testosterone as a biomarker of testicular function. However, its level in blood can vary; thus, making it an unreliable marker. Now, researchers at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark have identified a more reliable biomarker, called serum insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3). Leydig cells, present in the testes, produce INSL3 along with testosterone.

Our results suggest a long-lasting impaired gonadal capacity in previous anabolic steroid users.

Jon J. Rasmussen, study author

What Does This Mean for Previous Users?

To investigate the effect of steroid use on testicular function, researchers measured levels of INSL3 in 132 participants. The participants ranged from 18 to 50 years and did recreational strength training. They were divided into three groups: a control group with no history of anabolic steroid use, a current users group, and a group of former users who stopped 32 months earlier. Researchers measured INSL3 levels in the participants’ serum. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Compared to former users and never-users, current steroid users had significantly lower levels of the biomarker. Whereas former users showed lower levels than the control group. Moreover, a longer duration of steroid use led to lower biomarker levels. Thus, representing an impaired Leydig cell capacity, and ultimately reduced testicular function.

The results raise the question whether some previous anabolic steroid users should receive medical stimulation therapy to increase Leydig cell capacity in the testicles

Jon J. Rasmussen, study author

Anabolic steroid abuse can cause hair loss, reduced sex drive, breast growth, and low sperm count. Therefore, study authors believe their results point out the need for therapy in previous users, to improve their testicular function.


Jon Jarløv Rasmussen et al. Serum insulin-like factor 3 levels are reduced in former androgen users suggesting impaired Leydig cell capacity. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism


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