What Are Steroids and How Do Steroids Work? (2023 Updated)

We’ve all heard about Steroids. It’s a hot topic amongst the media and athletes. But most of us don’t know exactly what it is and how it actually affects our bodies.  So, what are steroids, …

What Are Steroids and How Do Steroids Work

We’ve all heard about Steroids. It’s a hot topic amongst the media and athletes. But most of us don’t know exactly what it is and how it actually affects our bodies. 

So, what are steroids, and how do steroids work?

Steroids are hormones! Our bodies naturally produce steroid hormones such as testosterone. That being said, some artificial lab-made chemicals are designed to imitate these hormones, called synthetic steroids. 

Here we’ll be discussing lab-made synthetic steroids. There are various types of lab-made steroids, they come in different forms, and they work differently as well. In this very guide, we’ll be diving deep into this! 

What Are Steroids?

As mentioned earlier, our body naturally produces steroid hormones, and some similar chemicals are also man-made in labs that are used as medicines. 

Artificial steroids are synthetic medicines that act like the body’s natural hormones. These are often prescribed to patients to increase testosterone production, muscle mass, and strength, reduce inflammation, body fat, etc. 

Such steroids are also prescribed to mitigate the symptoms of different diseases. 

However, it can be deadly if taken without the consent of an expert. There are two major types of lab-made synthetic steroids that serve different purposes and work differently. 

  1. Anabolic Steroids
  2. Corticosteroids

Anabolic Steroids – Benefits, Side Effects, Working Mechanism and Dosage

It’s also called AAS or Anabolic Androgenic Steroids. These are made from the male testosterone hormone, which is produced in the testicles. 

A little bit of testosterone is produced in female ovaries as well. The testosterone hormone increases the body’s strength and muscle mass. 

And anabolic steroids mimic the testosterone hormones. So when you take these steroids, it increases the testosterone level, and as a result, your endurance, stamina, muscle mass, and strength increases. 


According to several athletes, taking anabolic steroids has reduced overall body fat and they’ve also noticed faster recovery from injuries as well. 

It’s also proven that anabolic steroids increase muscle size, muscle strength and power, and red blood cell production. Several studies show that it can improve bone mineral density too.

Side Effects 

Anabolic steroids have some minor and noxious side effects too. 

When taken under limitation and according to the prescription, one might notice a few minor side effects: deepened voice and increased body hair. 

These effects don’t last very long and are very common among women. 

Having that said, scientists have come up with another kind of steroid to ease these minor symptoms, anabolic androgenic steroids. And if anabolic androgenic steroids have been heavily abused, they can become life-threatening. 

Excessive intake can increase blood pressure, make it hard for the liver to function, lead to kidney failure, and reduce sperm production dramatically, causing menstrual cycle alteration among females, leading to impotence, increasing the risk of heart disease, and can even cause gynecomastia in men. 

There are dozens of other side effects as well, such as acne, mood swings, etc. 

How Do Anabolic Steroids Work?

As you already know, Anabolic steroids imitate the testosterone hormones or the androgen receptors. These receptors are available in the fat cells, muscles, and bones. 

Upon taking the anabolic steroids, they get bound to the androgen receptors, which results in high protein synthesis. And therefore, the synthesis results in increased strength, muscle mass, endurance, etc. 

Recommended Dosage of Anabolic Steroids

2.5 mg pills 2 to 3 times a day for adults and teenagers. 0.25 mg for children. You should follow the dosage recommended by your doctor. Depending on your condition, the doctor might lower or increase the dose. 

Corticosteroids – Benefits, Side effects, Working Mechanism, and Dosage

It’s another lab-made synthetic drug that mimics the natural cortisol hormone. Corticosteroids significantly reduce the production of some chemicals, leading to inflammation, which is why doctors often prescribe this as an anti-inflammatory medicine. 

Corticosteroids have a big effect on stress, immune response, metabolism, and other biological processes. This lab-made steroid is also good for treating some diseases like lupus, asthma, etc. To conclude, this type of synthetic steroid is best for treating autoimmune diseases. 

When the immune system attacks the body’s tissues, bones, and organs, that leads to inflammation which can be mitigated through Corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids come in different forms: inhalers, pills, creams, sprays, drops, and injections. 


Corticosteroids can significantly reduce inflammation and can give relief from pain pretty fast. They also treat eczema, multiple sclerosis, gout, hay fever, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases, etc.

As mentioned before, it comes in different forms. Corticosteroid creams are prescribed for several skin diseases; eye drops are for treating uveitis inflammation, pills are used for instant pain relief and fighting some diseases, and injections are used for reducing arthritis pain

Side Effects 

Corticosteroid abuse has some serious consequences as well. Doing so will increase the chances of developing fungal infections, increase blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and cause osteoporosis, glaucoma, and skin and muscle atrophy. 

Apart from those, there are some mild side effects, too, such as nausea, headaches, etc. These issues should be solved within a week or so. 

How Do Corticosteroids Work?

Corticosteroids serve a totally different purpose than Anabolic steroids. They are used for reducing inflammation in different parts of the body. 

Glucocorticoid receptors are found in the liver, brain, and skeletal muscle. And unlike anabolic steroids, upon taking Corticosteroids, they get bound to the Glucocorticoid receptors, which results in an anti-inflammatory response to the body. 

And this steroid also massively slows down the immune system activity, which is why it’s often prescribed for asthma and allergies. 

Recommended Dosage of corticosteroids?

The ideal dosage for adults and teenagers is 0.25 – 7.2 mg a day. For children, the dose depends on body weight. Make sure to follow the recommendation of your doctor. 

How to Use Steroid Injections?

There are a bunch of ways to give steroid injections. It can be given directly into the spine, blood vessels, joints, and muscles. These injections usually take a day or two to start working; however, some start working within a few hours. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What exactly do steroids do?

Anabolic androgenic steroids increase muscle mass, strength, and stamina. Whereas, Corticosteroids work as an anti-inflammatory medicine. 

What type of drug is a steroid?

Steroids are synthetic drugs that imitate the natural steroid hormones the human body produces.

Are steroids safe?

If a certified doctor prescribes and is taken under the limit, then steroids shouldn’t do any harm. But when heavily abused, they can damage crucial organs of the body. 

How fast do steroids work?

It depends on a few factors like the patient’s age, how the steroid is given, etc. However, usually, it takes a few days for steroids to work. But some start working within a few hours. 

How long do steroids stay in your system?

If taken orally, steroids can last up to 14 days. And when injected, they can last up to a month. 


Though steroids have some significant benefits, they also have some life-threatening side effects. And that’s exactly why you should be extremely careful when thinking about taking them. Even most doctors prescribe steroid medicine when there aren’t any legal alternatives. 

So, what are steroids and how do steroids work? If you’ve gone through the article, you definitely know what it is and how it works! Hope that helps!


Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA. Medical issues associated with anabolic steroid use: are they exaggerated? Journal of sports science & medicine. 2006;5(2):182-193. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3827559/

Kavitha Ganesan, Haque IU, Zito PM. Anabolic Steroids. Nih.gov. Published October 22, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482418/

Hodgens A, Sharman T. Corticosteroids. PubMed. Published 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554612/

Jordan Kally is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a registered yoga teacher. Jordan is a gym owner in New York, where he holds personal training/health coaching sessions. He teaches classes on topics which include exercise, weight loss, stress management, sleep, and healthy eating.

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