Natural steroids are compounds that mimic the steroids that human bodies naturally produce, such as the hormones testosterone, progesterone, and cortisol.
Read on to learn about what natural steroids are and common examples. This article also covers potential safety concerns, benefits and risks of these substances.
The body naturally produces steroids, such as the hormone testosterone, to build muscle tissue, among other important bodily processes.
Natural steroids typically refer to compounds found in plants, herbs, and other natural sources that mimic human hormones or steroids.
Supporters of natural steroids claim they act in the body like anabolic steroids. These are compounds that build and repair muscle by increasing the production of testosterone.
Natural steroids may also be called legal steroids, and businesses often sell them as a mixture of ingredients.
Compounds with some preliminary evidence to support them include the following.
Currently, creatine is the only natural steroid that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve for short-term use in healthy adults aged over 18 years to improve athletic performance.
Several studies have found that using creatine for 5–7 days can significantly increase:
- work involving multiple sets of maximal-effort muscle contractions
- sprinting and soccer performance
No other compounds are approved by the FDA or backed by substantial human studies. However, some compounds may help build muscle or improve athletic endurance and resiliency.
Withania somnifera, or ashwagandha, is a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine for rejuvenation, revitalization, and longevity.
A 2018 study gave healthy males a 500 milligram (mg) dose of ashwagandha daily for 12 weeks, while the participants performed progressive overload resistance training 4 days per week.
The people who took ashwagandha experienced greater improvements in lower and upper body strength, as well as favorable body mass distribution compared with those in the placebo group.
Compounds found in Tribulus terrestris called steroidal saponins could weakly mimic the effects of testosterone and related hormones. This may improve muscle function and testosterone levels.
However, a 2020 study concluded that scientists need to do more research to understand whether Tribulus terrestris is safe and has a therapeutic effect.
Limited research proposes that D-aspartic acid (DAA) may have a role in the production and release of testosterone.
However, most of these studies showing that DAA enhances testosterone levels have been in animals. More human studies are needed to support their findings.
Healthy circulating vitamin D levels are essential for bone health.
Recent research suggests it may play a role in muscle health, and that there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and a loss of muscle strength and mass. However, researchers need to investigate this potential connection further.
A 2017 study found that adult females with moderate body compositions and lower body fat levels tended to have higher levels of circulating active vitamin D.
The researchers conclude that vitamin D may contribute to muscle health indirectly by acting on fatty tissues. Scientists need to perform more studies to see whether this connection applies to wider populations.
To date, researchers have focused mainly on how zinc affects muscle regulation. The substance may have links to age-related muscle loss, also called sarcopenia.
A 2018 review found that only an observational study suggested a correlation between zinc intake and physical performance in older adults.
With this in mind, experts need to conduct more studies before they can determine zinc’s role in physical performance.
Magnesium is an important part of different enzymatic reactions that impact muscular performance during exercise.
Researchers believe the mineral may also help maintain muscle integrity during strenuous activities.
A 2019 study found that taking 400 mg of magnesium per day for 3 weeks helped reduce muscle damage in 18 male professional cyclists.
These increase protein production and consumption, in turn, increasing muscle growth and strength.
One 2017 study found that treating muscle cells with black ginseng extract promoted muscle-specific gene expression and cellular differentiation. This helped the muscle cells grow larger, wider, and thicker, and enhanced cellular activity.
Researchers need to find out more about this herb.
Compounds in fenugreek extract may increase testosterone levels by blocking the body from converting it into other sex hormones.
Safed musli is a medicinal plant used in traditional Indian medicine to treat male sexual disorders, most likely by increasing testosterone levels.
More studies on safed musli are needed to understand whether it may also improve muscle mass, repair, endurance, or strength.
While scientists need to conduct more research on this compound, one study in rats found it increased body tissue production and repair.
According to the FDA, many products marketed as bodybuilding supplements are not safe.
Several companies market these products as dietary supplements, even though the FDA do not approve them within this classification.
The FDA say many bodybuilding products contain hidden, harmful compounds, and other substances they do not consider dietary ingredients.
These hidden, unapproved ingredients may have negative side effects. They could also interact with other supplements or medications.
In 2013, the FDA issued a warning to avoid products that contain the stimulant dimethylamylamine.
They warn this compound could increase blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks.
The FDA regulates these supplements differently from other drugs and medicines. It does not require these products to undergo clinical trials or testing before they reach the market.
Companies that sell natural steroids often claim they help with:
- improving endurance
- improving strength
- increasing exercise efficiency
- increasing tolerance for increased intensity training
- achieving an athletic or performance goal quicker
However, creatine is the only product commonly marketed as a natural steroid that currently has FDA approval.
Natural steroids may carry fewer side effects than traditional anabolic steroids. However, more studies are needed to understand their potential health concerns and drug interactions.
There is a risk in consuming or injecting over-the-counter or at-home products that contain any steroid or steroid-like substance.
Health risks can be severe and may include:
- liver damage
- kidney damage
- increased risk of cardiovascular events, including stroke or heart attack
- aggressive behavior
- weight gain
- fluid retention
- baldness or hair loss
- severe acne
- blood clots
- increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- mood swings
- paranoia or manic behavior
- hallucinations and delusions
Males who take natural steroids designed to mimic anabolic steroids may also experience these adverse effects:
- developing breasts
- having an increased risk of prostate cancer
- shrinking testes
- having reduced sperm count and male infertility
- experiencing erectile dysfunction
Females who take natural steroids designed to mimic anabolic steroids may also experience the following side effects:
- excessive facial and body hair growth
- loss of breast tissue
- swelling of the clitoris
- increased sex drive
- deepened voice
- problems with menstruation
Many body- or muscle-building supplements also contain vitamins and minerals, some of which can be toxic at high levels.
Adolescents who misuse anabolic steroids or similar compounds before undergoing puberty-related growth spurts may experience premature aging of the bones and limited growth.
If a person takes steroids that a doctor did not prescribe them, they need to talk to a healthcare professional about stopping these supplements safely.
People who suddenly cease using steroids, instead of gradually weaning themselves off them, may experience:
- depression and apathy
- trouble concentrating
- reduced sex drive
- unexplained exhaustion
- muscle and joint pain
A variety of products claim to contain so-called natural steroids, or natural compounds, that act like human steroids such as testosterone.
However, other than creatine, no natural product is approved for use in humans other than treating menopause symptoms, despite some preliminary studies.
The FDA do not consider most dietary supplements or products safe, given their lack of regulation and tendency to contain unlisted, unlawful ingredients.
If a person takes dietary supplements, they should seek medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur:
- abdominal pain or chest pain
- shortness of breath
- brown or discolored urine
- jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes
If people have an interest in natural steroids, the safest option is that they consult with a doctor before they take any dietary supplements.