Society has created so many rules without us knowing it. We have long been told to fit into little boxes defined by our gender, sexuality, skin color, class and more. The male body, for instance, is supposed to be made up of defined muscles. Men are supposed to be strong, and so they should look that way.

The steroid subculture has allowed men to look the way society assumes they should. But at what cost? According to new research from the journal Circulation, at the cost of your heart.

Steroids have a long and controversial reputation that have torn down some of the most reputable athletes in the eyes of industries and fans alike. Non-medical use of anabolic steroids is illegal and banned by most, if not all, major sports organizations, and the athletes who’ve been caught doing them are called cheaters. But in the bodybuilding world, steroids are so assumed that those who don’t use them refer to themselves as “natural bodybuilders.”

For men, side effects of using steroids have long been known to include shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness and the development of breasts. Women can experience facial hair growth, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris and a deepened voice. Even more alarming, however, is what steroids can do to you years down the line, and this new study just gives more weight to the growing concern of steroid use.

For their work, researchers recruited male weightlifters ages 34 to 54 capable of currently bench pressing 275 pounds for at least one rep, or who were able to do this in the past. Upon conducting screening interviews and analyzing their health histories, the researchers were left with 140 men, in which 86 had a history of at least two years on anabolic steroids, with 67 percent currently on them and 54 men who had never taken steroids.

The researchers discovered that roid users had higher body mass indexes and higher levels of fat-free mass than those who never took them. The roid users also had higher blood pressure readings and levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in their blood. Furthermore, after examining the men’s hearts using 2-D ultrasound imaging, the researchers found that 71 percent of current steroid users had impaired pumping power in their left ventricles, while off-drug users typically had normal pumping power and only two never-users had issues with pumping capacity.

Even more alarming, both current and past users showed issues in the diastolic functions of their hearts, or when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. The study’s results suggest that, even if you no longer use steroids, you are at risk for a more permanent health problem.

Give it up, gents. It ain’t worth it.

Photo: iStock/Drazen