Natural steroids are considered to be a healthier alternative to anabolic steroids, but they can have similar risks. Among the many potential risks of natural steroids are testicular shrinkage and/or cancer in men, increased rate of heart disease, infertility and stroke. Additional risks for women include menstrual cycle problems, breast tenderness and an increased risk of breast cancer. Younger people who use natural steroids might experience diminished growth.
Androstenedione, which is commonly known as andro, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are examples of natural steroids. DHEA is produced by the body’s adrenal glands. The body converts both andro and DHEA into testosterone.
Some plants produce natural steroids that work similar to human steroids. Saponins are a group of steroids produced by plants. Yams are a natural source of saponins known as diosgenin. Diosgenin can be converted into progesterone and estrogen. The human body cannot convert diosgenin on its own, so the conversion process requires the ingestion of possibly harmful synthetic substances.
Another popular saponin is ginsenoside, which is derived from ginseng. These natural steroids stimulate both the adrenal and pituitary glands. Although this natural steroid offers many benefits, it also comes with side effects such as headaches, increased blood pressure and an irregular heart rate. In women, it can cause menstrual problems and raise the risk of breast cancer.
The use of steroids, whether anabolic or natural, is prominent among teenagers, bodybuilders and athletes. Creatine is one of the most prevalent. A natural steroid produced by the liver, kidneys and pancreas, it also is found in meat and fish. Its negative affects include muscular cramps, diarrhea, weight gain and kidney problems.
Thermogenics, or fat burners, originally were made with ephedrine or ma huang. These natural steroids increased metabolism. Products that use ephedrine, however, have been linked to heart complications, strokes and even deaths. As a result, ephedrine was taken off the market in many countries, but “ephedra-free” products have cropped up. Caffeine and sources of caffeine such as yerba and guarana are often included in these products, which have side effects that are similar to those of ephedrine products.
Despite their benefits, natural steroids pose serious health risks. In addition, many of these steroids might not fall under the oversight of government agencies that regulate quality and control of drugs. This makes them potentially as dangerous as synthetic steroids.