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Long-Term AAS Use May Cause Brain Atrophy

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So lots of you already know that AAS can have various harmful (and some positive) effects on the brain and CNS. However this new study attempts to flesh out some of that story via brain imaging - ie non-invasively examining various brain structures through scans.

They looked at 82 bodybuilders/weightlifters who'd been using AAS for more than 1 year and found that: "Compared to non-AAS-using weightlifters, the AAS group had thinner cortex in widespread regions and significantly smaller neuroanatomical volumes, including total gray matter, cerebral cortex, and putamen."

What might this mean? As a matter of perspective, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers share in some ways a similar pattern of grey-matter atrophy. The cerebral cortex  is a rather vital part of normal brain functioning and if high-dose or long-term AAS use causes it to shrink, that should be a major concern to us all.

Of course we should be wary that these findings are still only correlational. That is, this study is not definitive proof, since its possible long-term AAS users may happen to have generally smaller brain structures and less grey-matter in the first place. But in all probability that's unlikely and these changes are largely a result of AAS use.

I'll reproduce the abstract for you here:


Biol Psychiatry. 2016
Structural Brain Imaging of Long-Term Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Users and Nonusing Weightlifters.

Bjørnebekk A, Walhovd KB, Jørstad ML, Due-Tønnessen P, Hullstein IR, Fjell AM



Prolonged high-dose anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) use has been associated with psychiatric symptoms and cognitive deficits, yet we have almost no knowledge of the long-term consequences of AAS use on the brain. The purpose of this study is to investigate the association between long-term AAS exposure and brain morphometry, including subcortical neuroanatomical volumes and regional cortical thickness.


Male AAS users and weightlifters with no experience with AASs or any other equivalent doping substances underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brain. The current paper is based upon high-resolution structural T1-weighted images from 82 current or past AAS users exceeding 1 year of cumulative AAS use and 68 non-AAS-using weightlifters. Images were processed with the FreeSurfer software to compare neuroanatomical volumes and cerebral cortical thickness between the groups.


Compared to non-AAS-using weightlifters, the AAS group had thinner cortex in widespread regions and significantly smaller neuroanatomical volumes, including total gray matter, cerebral cortex, and putamen. Both volumetric and thickness effects remained relatively stable across different AAS subsamples comprising various degrees of exposure to AASs and also when excluding participants with previous and current non-AAS drug abuse. The effects could not be explained by differences in verbal IQ, intracranial volume, anxiety/depression, or attention or behavioral problems.


This large-scale systematic investigation of AAS use on brain structure shows negative correlations between AAS use and brain volume and cortical thickness. Although the findings are correlational, they may serve to raise concern about the long-term consequences of AAS use on structural features of the brain.


If you'd like to take a look at the whole paper, it's free, and you can do so here: http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(16)32529-X/pdf

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