Why do steroids make you gain weight?

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Steroids typically are thought of as negative medications in today's society because of the publicised abuse by many sports figures, athletes and bodybuilders.

Steroids allow the body to build lean muscle mass despite genetic limitations, and for those with medical conditions for which steroids are part of the treatment, weight gain sometimes is inevitable. There are three varieties of steroids: natural, systemic and anabolic. Each of these has different roles in the body, and not all of them are safe.

Natural Steroids

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Natural steroids are those that are produced by the body. Cortisol is a natural steroid produced in the adrenal gland; it regulates secretion of ACTH in the pituitary gland, metabolism, immune responses, inflammation and distribution or excretion of solutes and water. Several hormones, such as testosterone, act as steroids in the body, assisting in the regulation of bodily systems. Natural steroids are used for regulating systems in the body. If a natural hormone such as cortisol is out of balance, it can cause weight gain by slowing down your metabolism.

Systemic Steroids

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Systemic steroids are the synthetic version of cortisol. Examples of prescribed systemic steroids are prednisone, hydrocortisone and prednisolone. These typically are referred to as the corticosteroids and can be taken orally in pill form or injected into the bloodstream. Systemic steroids are used for treating conditions such as severe dermatitis, inflammation, ear infections and bacterial and viral infections. Because of the increased water retention, systemic steroid use causes weight gain.

Anabolic Steroids

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Testosterone molecules are the model for these types of steroids. Prescribed anabolic steroids are methyltestosterone, nandrolone and ethylestrenol. Anabolic steroids are available in pill form or injections. Anabolic steroids are used in hormone replacement therapy, for HIV patients, in renal failure and for cancer patients. Anabolic steroids often are used by athletes and bodybuilders in order to bulk up. These steroids create a higher level of testosterone that increases the protein synthesis rate several times over and adds bulk.

Avoiding Weight Gain

To avoid weight gain while using steroids, you can alter your diet and exercise routine. Eat a diet with more fresh fruits and vegetables, and incorporate lean protein sources such as poultry and legumes. Adding a bit more cardio to your exercise regimen also will help reduce the amount of weight gain associated with steroid use. Keep drinking plenty of fluids in order to stay hydrated and avoid unnecessary weight gain. Speak with a doctor to decide on the best course of action for avoiding weight gain while taking steroids.


Natural steroids produced by the body can have side effects if their production is unbalanced, including weight gain, weight loss and irritability.

Long-term use of systemic steroids--more than three months--can have many negative side effects, such as skin thinning, higher risk of bacterial and fungal infections, easy bruising and acne. Overdose of systemic steroids have been linked to Cushing's disease.

Anabolic steroid overdose ultimately can result in death. Other risks and side effects include heart and circulatory conditions, blood toxicity, liver tumours and sensitive oestrogen-tissues under the nipples. Swollen prostates, excessive bleeding and acne also can result from a high anabolic steroid content.