There is as much misinformation about steroids as there is good information had among bodybuilding enthusiasts. Go to any gym and you will hear some kid spouting off to his buddies about how steroids do this, or how they do that, or whatever. This soon starts somewhat of a pissing contest (excuse the expression) as to who knows more about steroids. It’s the same kind of titillating and infectious banter that adolescent boys get into about girls and sex. With steroid banter you hear all the popular terms like Deca, Test, GH, gyno, zits, raisins, “h-u-u-u-ge”, roid, freak, monster, roid-rage, “I knew this guy once”, etc., etc.. If by some rare chance they are smart and have been reading this or some other high quality bodybuilding site on the net, they may actually get a few details right. More often than not they know just enough to be dangerous. Fortunately steroids haven’t proven to be all that dangerous. Not only that, but most of these guys who are infatuated with steroids won’t ever use or even see them except in magazines.
This kind of ego driven gym talk doesn’t really bother me until they begin giving advice to other clueless people who actually have access to them. Spewing out steroid lingo gives other less experienced kids the impression that these kids actually know what they are talking about. That’s how all of the psuedo-science folklore about steroids perpetuates. This is also why most people who actually use steroids know little about them. This last fact should bother anyone who cares about bodybuilding and/or bodybuilders.
I started out with this article planning on giving some textbook style explanation as to why using steroids doesn’t down regulate androgen receptors (AR). Then after considering some of my critics views that I tend to write articles that hardly anyone can read, I decided to write an easy to read, yet informative explanation about what androgens actually do and how this precludes androgen receptor down regulation. I still have a few references but not so many that it looks like a review paper.
Androgen receptors down-regulate….Don’t they?
One misunderstood principle of steroid physiology is the concept of androgen receptors (AR), sometimes called “steroid receptors”, and the effects of steroid use on their regulation. It is commonly believed that taking androgens for extended periods of time will lead to what is called AR “down regulation”. The premise for this argument is; when using steroids during an extended cycle, you eventually stop growing even though the dose has not decreased. This belief has persisted despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to date that shows that increased levels of androgens down regulates the androgen receptor in muscle tissue.
The argument for AR down-regulation sounds pretty straightforward on the surface. After all, we know that receptor down-regulation happens with other messenger-mediated systems in the body such as adrenergic receptors. It has been shown that when taking a beta agonist such as Clenbuterol, the number of beta-receptors on target cells begins to decrease. (This is due to a decrease in the half-life of receptor proteins without a decrease in the rate that the cell is making new receptors.) This leads to a decrease in the potency of a given dose. Subsequently, with fewer receptors you get a smaller, or diminished, physiological response. This is a natural way for your body to maintain equilibrium in the face of an unusually high level of beta-agonism.
In reality this example using Clenbuterol is not an appropriate one. Androgen receptors and adrenergic receptors are quite different. Nevertheless, this is the argument for androgen receptor down-regulation and the reasoning behind it. The differences in the regulation of ARs and adrenergic receptors in part show the error in the view that AR down-regulate when you take steroids. Where adrenergic receptor half-life is decreased in most target cells with increased catecholamines, AR receptors half-live’s are actually increased in many tissues in the presence of androgens.1
Let me present a different argument against AR down-regulation in muscle tissue. I feel that once you consider all of the effects of testosterone on muscle cells you come to realize that when you eventually stop growing (or grow more slowly) it is not because there is a reduction in the number of androgen receptors.
Testosterone: A multifaceted anabolic
Consider the question, “How do anabolic steroids produce muscle growth?” If you were to ask the average bodybuilding enthusiast I think you would hear, “steroids increase protein synthesis.” This is true, however there is more to it than simple increases in protein synthesis. In fact, the answer to the question of how steroids work must include virtually every mechanism involved in skeletal muscle hypertrophy. These mechanisms include:
- · Enhanced protein synthesis
- · Enhanced growth factor activity (e.g. GH, IGF-1, etc.)
- · Enhanced activation of myogenic stem cells (i.e. satellite cells)
- · Enhanced myonuclear number (to maintain nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio)
- · New myofiber formation
Starting with enhanced growth factor activity, we know that testosterone increases GH and IGF-1 levels. In a study by Fryburg the effects of testosterone and stanozolol were compared for their effects on stimulating GH release.2 Testosterone enanthate (only 3 mg per kg per week) increased GH levels by 22% and IGF-1 levels by 21% whereas oral stanozolol (0.1mg per kg per day) had no effect whatsoever on GH or IGF-1 levels. This study was only 2-3 weeks long, and although stanozolol did not effect GH or IGF-1 levels, it had a similar effect on urinary nitrogen levels.
What does this difference in the effects of testosterone and stanozolol mean? It means that stanozolol may increase protein synthesis by binding to AR receptors in existing myonuclei, however, because it does not increase growth factor levels it is much less effective at activating satellite cells and therefore may not increase satellite cell activity nor myonuclear number directly when compared to testosterone esters. I will explain the importance of increasing myonuclear number in a moment, first lets look at how increases in GH and IGF-1 subsequent to testosterone use effects satellite cells…
In part 2 we will discuss the role of satellite cells and myonuclei and how testosterone (androgens) activates these systems to create muscle growth far beyond what simple activation of the androgen receptor can produce.