Brain Health

Anabolic Androgenic Steroids May Accelerate Brain Ageing

Posted on 26 March 2021

Anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) are a synthetic version of the male sex hormone testosterone. While sometimes used as a treatment for hormone imbalance, most anabolic steroid consumption is for the purpose of building muscle when combined with strength training. While the prospect of quickly acquiring a set of shredded abs may be tempting, anabolic steroids are a bad idea if you care about your health. Steroid misuse causes a range of deleterious effects including heart problems and increased aggression. This information is nothing new, but now a new study suggests that AAS may cause your brain to age faster.

Dr. Bjørnebekk and colleagues performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brains of 130 male weightlifters with a history of prolonged AAS use and of 99 weightlifters who had never used AAS. Using a set of data compiled from nearly 2,000 healthy males from age 18 to 92 years of age, the researchers used machine learning to determine the predicted brain age of each of their participants and then determined the brain age gap* […].

AAS users had a bigger brain age gap compared to non-users. Those with dependence on AAS, or with a longer history of use, showed accelerated brain aging. The researchers accounted for use of other substances and for depression in the men, which did not explain the difference between the groups.

*This refers to the difference between a participant’s chronological age and their estimated brain age.

This study would not be the first to find a link between AAS use and brain health. Previous studies have found AAS use to be associated with reduced size of certain brain regions and reduced cognitive performance. However, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to attempt to relate AAS use to brain ageing itself.

A significant limitation of this study is that in weight lifters, anabolic steroids are frequently combined with other drugs such as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) that also influence the ageing process. Furthermore, side effects of AAS such as elevated blood pressure may have an effect on brain health. Together, this makes it extremely difficult to single out the direct effects that AAS has on the brain. This remains one of the least well studied effects of steroid misuse, and warrants further research.


References

Long-term anabolic androgenic steroid use is associated with deviant brain aging: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsc.2021.01.001

Anabolic androgenic steroids accelerate brain aging: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/e-aas032421.php

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