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.