Anabolic-androgenic steroids can have harmful effects on the brain: study

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A new study suggests that anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) can have harmful effects on the brain, causing it to age prematurely. AAS, a synthetic version of the male sex hormone testosterone, is sometimes used as a medical treatment for hormone imbalance.

The report appears in Biological Psychiatry called Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, published by Elsevier.

“Anabolic steroids have been used with a range of medical and psychological side effects,” lead author, Astrid Björnbeck, PhD, Department of Mental Health and Addiction, University Hospital of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. “However, since anabolic steroids have only been in the public domain for about 35 years, we are in the early stage of appreciating the full scope of the effects after prolonged use. At least the study effects are those that are related to the brain.”

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Steroid hormones enter the brain easily, and receptors for sex hormones are found throughout the brain. Because AAS are administered in much higher amounts than those found naturally in the body, they can have harmful effects on the brain, especially over long periods of use. Previous studies have shown that AAS users performed worse on cognitive tests than non-users.

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Dr. Björnbeck and his colleagues performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brains of 130 male lifters with a history of long-term use of AAS and 99 weightlifters who had never used AAS. Using a set of data compiled from approximately 2,000 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 92. The researchers used machine learning to determine the estimated brain ages of each of their participants and then determined the difference in brain age: the difference between each participant’s chronological age and their predicted brain age. Advanced brain age is associated with impaired cognitive performance and increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

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