Many people associate steroids with building big muscles.
But steroids are more often used as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, including inflammatory diseases, hormonal imbalances, and immune system disorders.
However, new research is starting to shed light on the negative effects that steroids can have on the brain.
The Role of White Matter in the Brain
White matter is a type of tissue that is made up of long, bundled nerve fibers called axons. These axons are coated in a fatty substance called myelin, which helps to insulate the fibers and allow for the rapid transmission of electrical signals throughout the brain.
White matter is essential for connecting different areas of the brain and allowing for communication between different regions.
Decreased White Matter Integrity in Steroid Users
A recent study published in the journal BMJ Open looked at data from hundreds of MRI scans to examine the brains of steroid users and non-users and found long-term steroid use is associated with decreased white matter integrity in the brain. This decrease in myelin may lead to impaired communication between different regions of the brain and potentially affect cognitive function.
In addition to changes in white matter integrity, the study also found that steroid users had changes in gray matter brain structures that are involved in the processing of thoughts, memories, and emotions.
Steroids and Mental Health
This study builds on previous research linking systemic steroid use to higher rates of anxiety, depression, apathy, fatigue, and suicide attempts compared to non-users.
The researchers suggest that these mood and mental health issues may be related to changes in hormone levels, immune function, and brain structure caused by steroid use.
Further Research is Needed
While the findings of these studies are concerning, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the extent of the negative effects of steroids on the brain. It is also not yet clear if the changes seen in the brain are reversible or if there are other options available for those who need to use steroids to treat their medical conditions.
Steroids are commonly used to treat a variety of medical conditions and are generally considered to be safe and effective.