Women and Steroids


Women and steroids is a very controversial topic, and more so than the social controversy that already surrounds anabolic steroid use in general within the current social climate. This is due in large part because of the adverse side effects that females normally endure with anabolic steroid therapy, even in a medical and clinical setting. To those who do not understand anabolic steroids very well, the nature of this matter has placed a large amount of stigma and misconception upon anabolic steroids as they pertain to female use. Furthermore, there are even many medical professionals within the medical establishment that adhere strictly to the position that anabolic steroid therapy even for valid medical application in females should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that anabolic steroid use for the purpose of physique and performance enhancement among adult women continues to increase, and the use of these hormones for the purpose of performance and physique enhancement is by far a completely different story than their use as medicinal therapeutic agents within a medical setting.

It should be common knowledge that anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone Testosterone. As such, they are properly and completely referred to as anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS). AAS are always by nature androgenic. Because of their natural properties and pharmacology, these hormones bind to and interact with the androgen receptor, which is the receptor site for these anabolic hormones that mediate anabolism (growth of muscle tissue) as well as the androgenic effects, such as male secondary sex characteristics. This includes effects naturally seen in males, such as deepening of the voice, growth of facial and bodily hair, and masculine features throughout the body. It stands to reason that a female that utilizes male hormones in an effort to increase athletic performance will expose herself to a greater probability of developing those side effects associated with androgyny. There are additional effects to be concerned with that are mostly due to the nature of the female physiology itself, as the female body is not optimally functional in a high-androgen environment, and vice-versa for males (the male physiology is not intended to support an excessive Estrogen-rich environment).

Nevertheless, women and steroids is a growing issue among the anabolic steroid using community, and even the majority of male anabolic steroid users tend to shun and condemn anabolic steroid use by female athletes and bodybuilders. Due to the nature of the subject of women and steroids, it is an issue that is driven underground even within the anabolic steroid using subculture. Information on harm reduction, proper usage, dosages, and cycle protocols for females is scarce. To make things worse, what information that does exist is wrought with dangerous misinformation, conjecture, and half-truth. Outside of the anabolic steroid using community, it is even worse. This article sets out to set things straight concerning women and steroids.

History of Women and Steroids

The history of women and steroids is murky and does lack a great amount of detail. What we currently know about women and steroids is that the general history of anabolic steroids began in earnest in the 1930s with the discovery and isolation of Testosterone by German scientists. In the post-World War 2 era of the 1950s, the Soviet Union, armed with the obtained information and data from the defeated Nazi German government set out to utilize Testosterone on their own Olympic athletes. Needless to say, the Soviet Union dominated the male strength and speed contests of the Olympic Games. Soon afterwards, more variants and derivatives of Testosterone were developed (Dianabol, Equipoise, Winstrol, Primobolan, etc.). The use of anabolic steroids for performance and physique purposes quickly spread into bodybuilding in the 1960s and eventually to other major sports (American football, baseball, etc.) in the 1970s and onwards. How and where anabolic steroid use by females came into being by amateur athletes or even the regular everyday Jane gym goer is unknown if any even existed at the time. However, at the professional level during the late 1960s and 1970s, anabolic steroid use by female athletes was well underway, and this is perhaps the most available well-documented data to date that exists concerning women and steroids.

The first and most well-documented use of anabolic steroids by female athletes began in the late 1960s by East German Olympic athletes (both male and female). Although many nations and governments engaged in this activity to varying extents, East Germany was the first and most successful government for the longest time to implement a state-sponsored program designed to specifically and intentionally administer anabolic steroids to their Olympic athletes.  In 1968, Chief Medical Officer of East Germany’s Olympic team, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, developed and submitted a report to the East German government that recommended anabolic steroid administration and use to all of the East German Olympic athletes for the purpose of performance enhancement[1]. In addition to purposely increasing athletic performance, State Plan Research Theme 14.25 also had another specific purpose in mind: to circumvent and essentially cheat the anabolic steroid testing procedures. Under State Plan Research Theme 14.25, East German female Olympic athletes were administered anabolic steroids unbeknownst to them. Every single East German athlete under this program were informed that they were being given vitamins and nutritional supplements, though the reality was of course that they were really being administered anabolic steroids. Many of these anabolic steroids were also undetectable (at the time) primarily due to their relatively new development and unknown status.

Under this program, special emphasis was in fact placed on the administration of anabolic steroids to female athletes. The results of this treatment program, which continued for approximately 30 years, resulted in such spectacular performance increases in female athletes that the few competitors that were not utilizing anabolic steroids had little chance of matching, let alone winning against them. Dosages were steadily increased until the late 1970s when eventually the side effects and virilization began to manifest overtly in the female athletes, so much so that reporters and journalists were questioning the unusually deep voices and broad-shoulders of the East German female athletes.

Since that time, there have been many female athletes (both Olympic and non-Olympic athletes) that have utilized anabolic steroids and have been caught as well. One particularly well-known case is that of American Olympic athlete Marion Jones who was implicated in the BALCO scandal that involved many other athletes as well[2] [3]. The use of anabolic steroids by women today does not stop with professional athletes, but a small percentage of females that frequent gyms utilize anabolic steroids for noncompetitive purposes – a user group that for all intents and purposes did not exist two or more decades ago.

Lack of Clinical Data on Female Anabolic Steroid Use for Performance Enhancement

Anabolic steroids have been used medically in the treatment of (primarily) female breast cancer[4] [5]. The use of anabolic steroids in female patients is extremely rare, and documented clinical data is even scarcer. Clinical data concerning the use of anabolic steroids by women is virtually nonexistent, and therefore solid empirical data does not exist and cannot be referenced concerning such a topic. Therefore, the majority of information from which to gather and form inferences from exists in the form of anecdotal evidence and the personal reports and experiences from female anabolic steroid users themselves. If any clinical studies are to be done on women and steroids for the purpose of performance and physique enhancement is unknown, and with the consideration of medical ethics and attitudes towards anabolic steroids in general considered, it is highly unlikely that such investigations and studies will ever be performed.


Medical References:

[1]  Franke WW, Berendonk B. 1997. Hormonal doping and androgenization of athletes: a secret program of the German Democratic Republic government. Clin Chem. 43(7):1262-1279.

[2] Associated Press (December 12, 2007). “IOC strips Jones of all 5 Olympic medals”. MSNBC.com.

[3] “Jones Returns 2000 Olympic Medals”. Channel4.com. Retrieved October 8, 2007.

[4] Fujita H, Teller MN, Green S, Kreis W. 1983. Effects of 5-fluorouracil and 2 alpha-methyldihydrotestosterone propionate on the growth of human breast carcinoma MCF-7 in vitro. Eur J Cancer Clin Oncol. 1983 Sep;19(9):1231-7.

[5] Teller MN, Stock CC, Bowie M, Chou TC, Budinger JM. 1982. Therapy of 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-induced rat mammary carcinomas with combinations of 5-fluorouracil and 2 alpha-methyldihydrotestosterone propionate. Cancer Res. 1982 Nov;42(11):4408-12.