Androgenic anabolic steroids and arterial structure and function in male bodybuilders

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001 Jan;37(1):224-30. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(00)01083-4.


Objectives: The study examined arterial and cardiac structure and function in bodybuilders using androgenic anabolic steroids (AAS), compared to non-steroid-using bodybuilder controls.

Background: Adverse cardiovascular events have been reported in bodybuilders taking anabolic steroids. The cardiovascular effects of AAS, however, have not been investigated in detail.

Methods: We recruited 20 male bodybuilders (aged 35 +/- 3 years), 10 actively using AAS and 10 who denied ever using steroids. Serum lipid and hormone levels, carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), arterial reactivity, and left ventricular (LV) dimensions were measured. Vessel diameter was measured by ultrasound at rest, during reactive hyperemia (an endothelium-dependent response, leading to flow-mediated dilation, FMD), and after sublingual nitroglycerin (GTN, an endothelium-independent dilator). Arterial reactivity was also measured in 10 age-matched non-bodybuilding sedentary controls.

Results: Use of AAS was associated with significant decreases in high density lipoprotein cholesterol, sex hormone binding globulin, testosterone and gonadotrophin levels, and significant increases in LV mass and self-reported physical strength (p < 0.05). Carotid IMT (0.60 +/- 0.04 mm vs. 0.63 +/- 0.07 mm), arterial FMD (4.7 +/- 1.4% vs. 4.1 +/- 0.7%) and GTN responses (11.0 +/- 1.9% vs. 14.4 +/- 1.7%) were similar in both bodybuilding groups (p > 0.2). The GTN responses were significantly lower and carotid IMT significantly higher in both bodybuilding groups, however, compared with the non-bodybuilding sedentary controls (p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Although high-level bodybuilding is associated with impaired vascular reactivity and increased arterial thickening, the use of AAS per se is not associated with significant abnormalities of arterial structure or function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anabolic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Cardiac Volume / drug effects*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / blood
  • Heart Ventricles / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Vascular Resistance / drug effects*
  • Ventricular Function, Left / drug effects*
  • Weight Lifting*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones