The fitness and health industry pushes around a lot of facts to market its products. Due to that, the terminology the industry uses isn’t all that consistent. Often, people get confused by some terminology that is used interchangeably and inconsistently by, well, marketers in the majority of cases.
There is a general confusion that includes the terms testosterone, steroids, and synthetic anabolic steroids, and there’s a connection here, but it’s not very clear. We’re going to try to explain these terms, how they relate to each other, and why it is important to know them.
Defining the word “steroid”
Steroids are a specific type of natural chemical with several prominent representatives and include all lipids with a specific chemical structure. The chemicals that fall into this group include bile acids, cholesterol, sex hormones, and some drugs.
It is a biologically active compound containing four rings with a specific structure, and they have two primary biological functions. They are a part of the cell membrane creating fluidity in the barrier, and they are signaling molecules that travel through the body exchanging messages.
This isn’t the answer you expected, isn’t it? This is because we mostly associate the term “steroid” with “synthetic anabolic steroids”, but the only way that we can explain that term is to go through the natural anabolic steroids first.
Testosterone: A natural anabolic steroid
There are only two examples of natural anabolic steroids: DHT (dihydrotestosterone) and testosterone.
This three-word term consists of “natural” which indicates it is produced naturally, “anabolic” meaning that it has a metabolic function of combining simple molecules into complex ones; and “steroid” a term which we have previously explained.
Now saying “steroid” and meaning “testosterone” would not be a mistake, but it isn’t very precise. Still, due to the fact that in popular culture, “steroid” usually means “artificial compound that boosts muscle-building”, we have a big what’s what situation on our hands.
The difference between synthetic and natural steroids
This is the core of our terminological issue. When most people say “steroid” they are referring to “synthetic anabolic steroids”
These artificial compounds were created for a specific reason — to imitate the effects of the male sex hormone — testosterone. The goal was to give the body an influx of testosterone so it could build muscles much faster and with less effort. Unfortunately, doing that turned out to be very unhealthy for our bodies, causing all kinds of underlying issues and even death. These days, synthetic steroids are banned in most countries due to their adverse effects on the body, and they are definitely banned in most sports competitions.
Risk of using synthetic steroids
We have to outline the risks of using synthetic steroids here. They do work, and they will make you buff much faster, but there is no way to take them without damaging your health. Here is a list of side effects that they will cause if you use them:
Synthetic steroids can negatively affect reproductive health by decreasing sperm count and motility, leading to infertility in men. This effect is often reversible with discontinuation of steroid use, but can also be long-lasting or permanent in some cases.
2. Decreases natural testosterone production
As a consequence of steroid use, the testes shrink and lose function, which can even turn into a permanent change even after you discontinue use. Steroid use causes hypogonadism.
3. Liver damage
This is especially true for steroids that are ingested orally, as they tend to be especially heavy on the liver.
4. Increases probability of heart attacks
Steroids are usually used in combination with resistance training which is very demanding and intense. This combination is known to increase blood pressure and enlarge the left ventricle of the heart, which increases the chances of a heart attack occurring.
5. Causes gynecomastia
This condition leads to male breasts developing and, in some cases, even becoming painful. Usually, it is a consequence of low testosterone production.
There are other side effects that can occur, but these are the more serious ones that we wanted to divert your attention to so as to stop anyone who potentially thinks, “I’ll just do steroids for a while”.
The damage can occur in small doses and over very short periods, and it isn’t worth the risk.
Risks of using testosterone boosters
Often confused with steroids, testosterone boosters don’t actually contain steroids or testosterone. They contain ingredients that are capable of doing two things. They trigger the production of testosterone in some way and/or they prevent the conversion of testosterone into other hormones, which is quite a common occurrence.
They do have side effects, but they are not life-threatening or even serious. The side effects include digestive issues, nausea, and diarrhea. Of course, being supplements, if you go over the recommended dosage, chances of side effects and even toxicity exist.
Synthetic steroids vs TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy)
While both essentially do the same thing, there is a huge difference between the two.
Synthetic steroids are illegal substances that you get on the black market. You administer them yourself and keep track of your progress and any potential side effects yourself. Some of them are even injected, leaving you to give yourself injections or rely on a relative or a friend to do it, and being that neither of you is likely to be trained with this, you will be prone to making mistakes.
On the other hand, TRT is done under the supervision of a medical professional. They administer the dosage and keep track of your progress through testing and regular check-ups. They also prescribe TRT to people who need it, predominantly to people with severe testosterone deficiency. You can’t just go to a doctor and request TRT because you’d like to build more muscle with less effort; they will not allow you to do that.
TRT also has side effects, but the medical staff makes sure that they dose things properly and keep you out of harm's way.
To summarize the answers to our original question, testosterone is a steroid, but the term steroid, as used in colloquial speech, means synthetic anabolic steroids, which are bad for our health. The synthetic variant is basically artificial testosterone meant to do the same thing as testosterone, but our bodies react badly to it.
Steroids are quite natural, and our bodies produce them. Testosterone is one of them, and DHT is the other. Synthetic steroids should only be considered if you have a big testosterone deficiency and are considering TRT.
No, testosterone boosters are supplements created to improve testosterone production naturally. They do not contain testosterone, and therefore they are not steroids.
Testosterone is a natural anabolic androgenic steroid, so it is not a protein. Technically steroids are classified as lipids (fats), even though they are not considered true lipids.
Testosterone has many functions in both male and female bodies. In men, they regulate the development of male reproductive organs and features. In women, they regulate libido, bone health, and the repair of the reproductive system.
Synthetic anabolic steroids will work without training, but the effects will be much weaker. Weight lifting will get you far better results, and if you are doing this already, it makes no sense to go for a longer-term solution as it will damage your body more. Don’t do it, though — synthetic steroids can severely damage your health.