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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
Steroid mood change warning
Bodybuilder
Body obsession can drive steroid use
Adolescents who take anabolic steroids to improve their sporting performance could develop irreversible brain changes, it is claimed.

There are well-documented health risks to young people who take steroids in high doses, including high blood pressure, liver abnormalities and lowered sperm counts.

In addition, problems such as sleep disturbance, confusion, depression, and paranoia can develop.

In adult users, these mental effects normally stop if the patient stops taking steroids.

However, research on animals by experts at Northeastern University in the US suggests that steroid use in adolescents may permanently alter brain chemistry.

This may happen because the brain and nervous system of adolescents is still under development.

The study centred around a brain chemical called serotonin, which is linked to mood.

Depression

Lower levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression.

The experiments were carried out on a strain of Syrian hamsters.

This breed is noted for territorial aggression during adolescence, and has similar neurological circuitry to humans, so experts felt it might be a good model for humans in this respect.

The hamsters were given a high dose of anabolic steroids over the course of a month - which corresponded to five years repeated dosage in humans.

The hamsters were more aggressive than those not given steroids.

These aggressive tendencies were mellowed if Prozac - a drug which boosts serotonin "uptake" - was given.

However, subsequent analysis showed significantly lower than normal serotonin levels in the neural connections of the hamster's brains.

Long-term

This suggests there may be a longer-term effect of taking steroids while the brain is still developing.

Further studies are now planned to see for how long this effect persists after steroid abuse has stopped.

Professor Richard Melloni, who helped run the study, said: "We know testosterone or steroids affect the development of serotonin nerve cells, which, in turn, decreases serotonin availability in the brain.

"The serotonin neural system is developing during adolescence and the use of anabolic steroids during this critical period appears to have immediate neural and behavioural consequences.

"Further research will allow us to determine whether or not these deficits are present into adulthood."

One survey of steroid use in suggests that between 3.6% of 16-year-olds, and 2.8% of 17-year-olds had taken them.

Other surveys have put the level of abuse at more than 10% of boys, and 3% of girls.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Health
05 Aug 99 | Medical notes
23 Jul 02 | Europe
22 Nov 00 | Health
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