3 ‘Safe Steroids’ for Bodybuilders
Disclaimer: The following article is for educational purposes only and does not promote the use of illegal steroids. If you have any questions or concerns, Dr. Touliatos is currently available for consultation.
Given the sensitive nature of this article’s topic, we’d like to clarify that no steroid can be considered 100% safe, especially when bought on the black market for cosmetic purposes.
Anabolic steroids are also illegal (1) unless utilized by a doctor in a strict medical setting. This is due to AAS having the potential to cause dangerous side effects in users.
However, we have found certain steroids to be safer than others, which is why several AAS are approved by the FDA in medicine (while others are not).
It’s worth noting that bodybuilders often consume significantly higher dosages of anabolic steroids compared to medical settings, thus increasing the risk of side effects.
Furthermore, bodybuilders often take steroids without having regular checkups with a medical doctor, which is a further risk.
However, below are the mildest or least destructive steroids a bodybuilder can take based on our testing:
- Deca Durabolin
Testosterone is an FDA-approved injectable steroid used to treat millions of men all over the world who are deficient in natural testosterone.
This is known as testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT.
Testosterone was included in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines and is regarded as crucial for treating endocrine disorders (2).
From 2001 to 2011, testosterone prescriptions have tripled (5), indicating a current low testosterone epidemic.
In bodybuilding, we see testosterone predominantly used in bulking cycles to add large amounts of muscle and strength. However, testosterone is also utilized in cutting cycles to retain muscle hypertrophy.
When injected in the correct dosages, we find testosterone to be one of the safest steroids available.
Testosterone causes hefty gains in muscle size (20–30 lbs) and remains one of the most popular steroids in bodybuilding, despite coming to market over 80 years ago.
If injected incorrectly, any steroid or medication can be dangerous (or fatal).
However, there is oral testosterone available (undecanoate) for those wanting to avoid needles. We see oral testosterone as less commonly used in bodybuilding compared to injectables due to its notably higher market price.
Testosterone Side Effects
Testosterone poses little to no hepatic concern (liver stress) due to it being injectable and thus entering the bloodstream immediately, instead of the liver having to filter it.
Oral testosterone (undecanoate) is also safe for the liver, with it being absorbed via the intestinal lymphatic route, thus preventing hepatic strain. One study gave 2,800mg per week of testosterone undecanoate to male subjects for 21 days (6); yet none of them experienced any hepatotoxic stress, despite such an exceedingly large dose.
Testosterone will increase blood pressure due to a redistribution of HDL and LDL cholesterol levels. However, we find such cholesterol fluctuations are mild compared to other anabolic steroids.
There are a couple of reasons why testosterone doesn’t negatively affect blood pressure significantly. Firstly, it converts to estrogen, with the female hormone having a positive effect on blood lipids.
Secondly, testosterone doesn’t pass through the liver, thus failing to stimulate hepatic lipase, an enzyme that can skew cholesterol levels in the wrong direction.
Interestingly, there is research showing that oral testosterone improves cardiovascular health when therapeutic doses are administered to overweight men (7). However, we hypothesize reductions in fat mass to be the primary factor in subjects lowering BP.
In most bodybuilders who utilize moderate to high dosages of testosterone, blood pressure will rise, with the severity depending on the dose and cycle duration.
In research, 280 mg/week of testosterone enanthate had a very slight negative effect on HDL cholesterol after 12 weeks (8).
300 mg/week of testosterone (enanthate), when taken for 20 weeks, caused HDL levels to drop by just 13%.
Meanwhile, 600 mg/week caused a reduction of 21%.
Note: We find that taking an AI (aromatase inhibitor) further spikes blood pressure by inhibiting testosterone to estrogen conversion, further decreasing HDL levels.
Estrogenic Side Effects
Testosterone has the ability to cause gynecomastia and water retention due to its estrogenic nature. However, a SERM (such as Nolvadex) significantly reduces the chances of gynecomastia forming, in our experience.
Androgenic Side Effects
Androgenic side effects, such as hair loss on the scalp, prostate enlargement, and acne, are possible with testosterone.
Such side effects inspired Dr. Ziegler to create Dianabol after understanding that Soviet strongmen had to use urinary catheters as a result of cycling testosterone in the Olympic games.
Thus, Dianabol was formulated to be less androgenic than testosterone, yet more anabolic.
Therefore, despite testosterone’s mild properties, we do not find it suitable for men with existing prostate issues or those wanting to avoid hair loss.
As with all anabolic steroids, testosterone will decrease endogenous testosterone levels.
Low testosterone can thus be experienced for several months unless PCT (post-cycle therapy) is administered to shorten this recovery period.
We have found HCG, Clomid, and Nolvadex to be effective PCT medications to resurrect a male’s testosterone production.
Anavar is an oral steroid often used in cutting cycles to enhance fat loss and lean muscle gains.
Anavar is one of the few steroids that is adept at building muscle and burning fat simultaneously.
Muscle gains are not extreme on Anavar; however, an increase of 10–15 pounds is common in our experience.
Anavar is a mild steroid that remains FDA-approved for medicinal purposes. It is commonly prescribed to patients suffering from bone pain due to osteoporosis and those needing to gain weight quickly (as a consequence of trauma, infection, or surgery).
Interestingly, Anavar can be prescribed to women and children without them experiencing any notable negative effects.
This demonstrates Anavar’s mild properties, with other steroids causing masculinization in women or being too toxic for minors.
In bodybuilding circles, Anavar is nicknamed the ‘girl steroid’, due to it being generally safe for women to take (in low to moderate doses). Many AAS, in comparison, will enlarge the clitoris, shrink the breasts, cause hair growth on the body, and deepen the voice.
However, many men also take Anavar, not just for bodybuilding purposes but to dramatically increase muscular strength, power, and endurance.
Legal Anavar Alternative
Oral steroids generally don’t have a positive reputation when it comes to liver health.
This is because orals are c-17 alpha-alkylated, meaning they are processed by the liver before entering the bloodstream. Consequently, the organ becomes stressed with ALT and AST liver enzymes rising.
However, Anavar is one of the few exceptions to this rule, with it posing considerably less liver toxicity compared to other orals (based on our LFTs).
It is not entirely known why this is the case; however, the kidneys playing more of a role in processing oxandrolone, compared to other compounds, may be a reasonable explanation (thus decreasing the liver’s workload).
We find cholesterol levels shift in a negative way on Anavar, although notably less than other steroids.
For an oral steroid, Anavar is certainly not the worst compound for the heart; however, its effects are noticeable.
Research has shown that men taking 20 mg/day of Anavar for 12 weeks experienced a 30% decrease in HDL cholesterol.
A 40 mg/day dose of Anavar only reduced HDL levels by a further 3% (33% in total).
When taking 80 mg/day, the reduction was severe, dropping by 50%.
LDL levels also increased in each of the groups, at a similar rate to the drop in HDL.
The typical bodybuilding dose for men is 20mg of Anavar per day. Also, Anavar is not commonly taken for long periods of time (such as 12 weeks), but more often 6–8 weeks.
Thus, a common Anavar cycle can cause a 30% decrease in HDL cholesterol, although most of our patients are closer to 20–25%.
This is not an alarming drop; however, it is certainly something to monitor and take precautions against. We have found that taking 4 g/day of fish oil can reduce such rises in BP, offering some level of cardiovascular protection on-cycle.
Virilization in Women
Although Anavar is viewed as a ‘female-friendly’ steroid, virilization (or masculinization) can still occur in women taking high doses of it.
In our experience, dosages over 10 mg/day will increase the likelihood of undesirable effects. Cycles lasting over 6 weeks are also risky.
Anavar doesn’t convert to estrogen, which is advantageous in regard to body composition as there will be no water retention. Consequently, this creates dry and full muscle bellies.
Also, there is no risk of gynecomastia on Anavar due to a lack of aromatization activity.
However, low estrogen is one reason why cholesterol levels are worse on Anavar compared to testosterone.
Significant decreases in natural testosterone production are a certainty when taking any steroid.
Anavar will not completely shut down users but instead cause moderate suppression, based on our SHBG tests.
One study reported a 45% reduction in testosterone when male subjects took 20mg and 40mg for 12 weeks (9).
This is a high dose over an excessive period of time, even by bodybuilding standards.
In comparison, a small dose of Dianabol (15mg) taken for 8 weeks can cause testosterone to drop by 69% (10).
We often see patients’ testosterone function recover within several weeks post-cycle (without a PCT).
However, a PCT may be utilized to speed up this process, which also applies to female users.
Deca Durabolin (Nandrolone) is an FDA-approved injectable steroid used in medicine to treat anemia, osteoporosis, and those suffering from various muscle-wasting diseases.
Deca Durabolin is favoured in medicine and the bodybuilding community due to its mild nature and potent ability to add lean muscle and strength. It is anabolic, like testosterone, yet lacks strong estrogenic and androgenic properties.
In a trial in Sydney (Australia), 17 HIV-positive men took Deca Durabolin for 16 weeks.
They experienced significant increases in weight (in the form of lean body mass), while ‘no subject experienced toxicity’ (11).
We have found Deca Durabolin to be one of the most heart-friendly anabolic steroids. Existing medical research also shows this.
Studies administering 600mg/week of Deca for 10 weeks (12), saw a 26% reduction in HDL levels.
This effect is slightly worse than testosterone and similar to a moderate dose of Anavar.
Deca Durabolin has weak androgenic properties; thus, male pattern baldness, prostate enlargement, and oily skin or acne seldom trouble our patients.
Deca Durabolin Side Effects
Although Deca Durabolin is considered a safer steroid for bodybuilding, it can cause some problematic side effects in other areas.
Arguably the most notorious side effect is ‘Deca dick’, which essentially is erectile dysfunction or impotence. Our patients have reported an inability to get erections and significantly reduced libidos.
One reason why Deca Durabolin may have a particularly negative effect on sexual libido and performance is that it significantly increases prolactin levels in the bloodstream.
Prolactin inhibits the production of GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), causing less endogenous testosterone production. This naturally leads to less desire for sex.
Due to Deca Durabolin’s low androgenicity, users can experience less nitric oxide production, which is crucial for optimal blood flow. Thus, erections may become less frequent or more difficult to attain or sustain.
This is why some bodybuilders stack androgenic compounds with Deca Durabolin, such as testosterone, helping to keep nitric oxide levels high. We have found that supplementing with cabergoline can keep prolactin levels stable and prevent ‘Deca dick’.
Although Deca Durabolin is not regarded as estrogenic, it converts to estrogen at 20% of testosterone.
Deca, however, has strong progesterone properties, which can stimulate estrogen receptors in the mammary glands, thus still posing a risk of gynecomastia.
High progesterone can also contribute to water retention, causing the typical smooth look bodybuilders possess when taking Deca in the off-season.
A common dose of Deca is 300–400 mg per week, when stacked with other steroids.
Research has shown 100mg of Deca per week can reduce testosterone by 57% (13).
The same trial also found that 300mg per week lowered testosterone levels by 70%; thus, PCT should be a high priority post-cycle.
What is the Safest Oral Steroid?
The safest oral steroid in our testing is oral testosterone (undecanoate). However, Anavar and Primobolan are also very mild compounds with few side effects.
The most important organs to protect during a steroid cycle are the heart and liver, and these three oral steroids are the least destructive in this regard.
For women, the safest oral is Anavar, with it arguably being the most desirable compound for preserving their femininity.
What is the Safest Steroid Cycle?
Generally, we find that the more steroids a user stacks together, the greater the side effects.
We regard a testosterone-only cycle as the mildest protocol, hence why it is famously used as the first steroid cycle among beginners. Below is a cautiously dosed testosterone cycle, suitable for novices:
The above testosterone cycle would be classified as a bulking one, with users experiencing large increases in muscular strength and hypertrophy.
An Anavar-only cycle is another popular option for users prioritizing their safety. Male bodybuilders typically take the following dosages, to keep side effects at bay:
This would be seen as a cutting cycle, taken predominantly to enhance fat burning. Anavar is also suitable for users looking to gain small to moderate amounts of muscle simultaneously.
Note: Women on Anavar should take no more than 10 mg/day. Below is a typical female Anavar cycle:
Although no anabolic steroid is 100% safe, some are classified as essential medicines by leading health organizations (14). Several steroids are also approved by the FDA, yet they remain illegal today in most countries. Today, steroid use only becomes legal when prescribed by a medical doctor for underlying health problems (15).
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