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Doping dopes? Steroids might make you stronger – but they age the human brain prematurely by years, new research says

Doping dopes? Steroids might make you stronger – but they age the human brain prematurely by years, new research says
Prolonged use of steroids to build muscle mass also prematurely ages the brain, scientists say, making those who use the banned athletic-enhancement drugs more susceptible to Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

The study by researchers at Oslo University Hospital in Norway looked at MRI images of two groups of weightlifters. One group had used anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) – a synthetic version of testosterone – to build muscle mass and increase their power-lifting abilities. The second group had never used the banned substances.

These MRIs were also compared to brain images from another 2,000 individuals – and the differences between the two weightlifter groups was startling.

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“This important study shows in a large sample that use is associated with deviant brain aging, with a potential impact on quality of life in older age,” said lead author Dr. Astrid Bjornebekk of Oslo University Hospital, adding the findings serve as a warning for “young men wondering whether to use anabolic steroids.”

The researchers determined the predicted brain age of each of their participants and then determined the “brain age gap” – the difference between each participant’s actual chronological age and their predicted brain age. Advanced brain age is associated with impaired cognitive performance and increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

The study, published Thursday in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, recruited participants through web pages and forums targeting people partaking in heavy weight training, bodybuilding, and online forums directly addressing steroid use.

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“The results of this brain imaging study should be of concern for athletes using anabolic steroids for performance enhancement and suggest that the adverse effects on behavior and cognition previously shown to be associated with long-term use are the result of effects on the brain in the form of accelerated brain aging,” said Cameron Carter, Editor of Biological Psychiatry journal.

Because anabolic steroids have only been in the public domain for some 35 years, little research has been done into their long-term effects. Previous studies, however, have shown that AAS users performed worse on cognitive tests than non-users.

Anabolic steroids are prescription-only medicines. They have limited medical use, have serious side effects and can cause addiction – and should not be confused with corticosteroids, another type of drug that is commonly prescribed for a variety of conditions.

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