Winstrol is one of the most famous steroids of all time.
Most people buy Winstrol because they’ve heard that taking a Winstrol cycle or two will help them build muscle, get stronger, and lose fat . . . and they’re right.
Take a look at some Winstrol before and after photos, and you’ll see quite a difference.
While Winstrol results normally aren’t as jaw-dropping as the results you get with some performance enhancing drugs, taking even a small Winstrol dosage will give you better gains than you could ever hope for naturally.
Combine this with the fact that Winstrol side effects are purported to be milder than many steroids, and it’s obvious why so many bodybuilders are champing at the bit to inject and ingest this powerful drug.
The truth, though, is that like all steroids Winstrol does have powerful negative side effects that outweigh its benefits. As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true . . .
Table of Contents
Winstrol, also known as “Winny,” is the brand name of a synthetic (man-made) anabolic steroid called stanozolol (stan-oh-zo-lol) that’s available as both Winstrol pills and as an injectable liquid.
Winstrol was invented in 1962 when chemists at Winthrop Laboratories modified a naturally produced steroid known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) so that it would produce stronger muscle-building effects, with fewer masculinizing side effects
DHT is an androgen hormone, meaning it promotes male characteristics such as increased body and facial hair, deepening of the voice, and sebum (skin oil) production. It also reduces hair follicle growth on the scalp and is considered a major cause behind male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia).
Winstrol was briefly approved for human use in the 60s to treat a variety of conditions such as osteoporosis, muscle loss, and growth insufficiency in children, though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quickly banned it for all but a few rare medical conditions.
Winstrol is technically still approved for a few medical conditions, but no pharmaceutical companies in the United States have produced it since 2003.
While you can still buy Winstrol in Europe (where it’s marketed under the brand name Stromba), most of the Winstrol in the U.S. is made by private labs or individuals “cooking” their own steroids in places like Mexico or Thailand.
Most people take Winstrol to . . .
- Build muscle
- Lose fat
- Get stronger
. . . but there are many anabolic steroids that can do this, so what are the Winstrol benefits that make it so special?
To understand what makes so many athletes do a Winstrol cycle rather than take other steroids, you need to understand how steroids work.
Most of the cells in your body have specialized proteins on their surfaces called androgen receptors.
You can think of these proteins as mailboxes that only receive messages from testosterone or similar hormones circulating in the blood.
You can think of androgenic hormones like testosterone as incoming mail that’s circulated throughout the body, giving cells instructions on how to behave.
When a testosterone molecule or other steroid attaches to an androgen receptor, its messages are transported to the nucleus of the cell, which alters the cell’s behavior.
As you probably know, the main message that steroids send to cells are to build muscle. Researchers refer to this as the steroid’s anabolic effect. An anabolic steroid is one that promotes the growth of tissues, including muscle growth.
Steroids also send other signals to cells, though, and many of these are broadly labeled as androgenic effects.
Androgenic means a substance that promotes male characteristics, such as chest and facial hair growth, a deepened voice, an exaggerated jawline, aggression, acne, etc.
In other words, the androgenic effects of steroids are most of the side effects that people want to avoid. That said, there are still plenty of side effects from steroids that aren’t solely due to their androgenic effects, so just because a steroid isn’t highly androgenic doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Scientists have known that all steroids have both anabolic and androgenic effects for decades, and some early researchers created a scale known as the anabolic:androgenic ratio.
That is, how much muscle-building will this steroid produce relative to its unwanted side effects?
They used testosterone as a baseline, with an anabolic to androgenic ratio of 100:100.
More or less every steroid you’ve heard of—trenbolone, nandrolone, Dianabol, and others—are all variations of testosterone that have been chemically modified to have either stronger anabolic or weaker androgenic properties.
That is, they’re basically “franken-testosterones” that are designed to produce more muscle gain with fewer side effects.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that much of the research behind the anabolic:androgenic ratio was based on studies of rat muscle tissue. What’s more, the researchers looked at the levator ani muscle, or the muscle surrounding the anus, which is a smooth and not a skeletal muscle.
Since humans aren’t big rats and smooth muscle isn’t the same as skeletal muscle, some scientists have suggested that we take the research on the anabolic:androgenic ratio with a big grain of salt.
That said, lacking better information, it’s still considered a good starting point for estimating the muscle-building potential of steroids compared to their side effects, including steroids like Winstrol.
The main reason bodybuilders and athletes love “Winny” is that many of them think the Winstrol benefits outweigh the Winstrol side effects.
That is, it has a higher potential to increase muscle growth on a gram for gram basis than testosterone, and it produces fewer androgenic side effects. In reality, though, all else is not equal, and a Winstrol cycle isn’t as effective at building muscle as taking pure testosterone (more on that in a moment).
Specifically, its anabolic to androgenic ratio is 320:30.
Harsher steroids, like trenbolone, have an anabolic to androgenic ratio of 500 to 500, and milder steroids like boldenone undecylenate have a ratio of 100:50.
Now, due to the arcane laws of steroid science, this doesn’t mean Winstrol will build exactly three times more muscle than testosterone. That said, the important thing to know is that milligram per milligram, Winstrol is more effective at building muscle than testosterone and produces fewer negative side effects.
This is particularly important for women, who generally don’t take highly androgenic drugs (like trenbolone) due to the harsh, masculinizing side effects.
If a man takes highly-androgenic steroids, the short-term side effects are typically things men deal with at some point or another anyway:
- Hair loss on the scalp
- Denser facial and body hair
- Acne and oily skin
- Deepened voice
- Rougher skin
- Increased aggression
If a woman takes highly-androgenic steroids, she can look forward to all of that plus . . .
- Drastic increase in clitorus size (clitoromegaly), which in some cases can resemble a small penis
- Masculine, “Brad Pitt-esque” jawline growth
- Menstrual irregularities
- Breast shrinkage
- Birth defects
- Severe depression
Which is why many female bodybuilders who’ve taken powerful steroids for years end up looking and sounding like, well, men.
Here are a few examples:
Thanks to Winstrol’s low androgenic score, it poses a much lower risk of causing these side effects in women than other steroids.
This is why it’s often taken by female bodybuilders and athletes who want the muscle-building benefits of steroids without turning into jacked gargoyles.
That said, there’s scant long-term research on how steroids affect women (and very little on how they affect men), so it’s impossible to know what Winstrol side effects women would experience if they took it for years on end.
It’s likely that if a woman took Winstrol for long enough or at a high enough dose, she’d still experience many masculinizing side effects. That’s just part and parcel of taking steroids.
This aside, another unique feature of Winstrol is that it isn’t converted into estrogen-like many other steroids are.
You see, a major problem with many steroids is that although they increase muscle growth, they also increase estrogen levels in the body.
Well, in men estrogen is produced by an enzyme known as aromatase, which converts a percentage of our testosterone into estrogen through a process known as aromatization.
When testosterone levels are at their normal, healthy level, estrogen levels also remain relatively low in men.
When testosterone levels are 3, 5, or 10 times their normal level, which is what happens when people take steroids, estrogen levels increase proportionally.
Some steroids like Dianabol, for example, are also readily converted into estrogen in the body.
This can lead to a long list of feminizing effects such as gynecomastia (“man boobs”), water retention, and fat gain.
To counter these side effects, many athletes take estrogen blockers (which come with their own side effects), but this also presents a problem:
Estrogen plays an important role in muscle growth, too, and reducing it to rock bottom levels reduces the muscle-building benefits of steroids.
Specifically, estrogen . . .
- Plays an important role in muscle recovery and repair by improving muscles’ ability to absorb glucose and boosting growth hormone levels.
- Improves the body’s response to anabolic steroids by increasing the number of androgen receptors on muscle cells.
- Allows you to train harder by bolstering serotonin levels, which increases your arousal, focus, and ability to push yourself in workouts.
So, how is a roider to reap the benefits of estrogen without growing man boobs and getting bloated and fat?
Winstrol is part of the answer.
Because Winstrol isn’t converted into estrogen, you could take as much Winstrol as you wanted and never run into any of the side effects of excess estrogen (although you’ll still experience other side effects).
This is why Winstrol is often taken by athletes who want to maximize muscle mass, strength, and performance, without the bloating and fat gain that often results from other steroids.
Now, steroids that don’t increase estrogen levels also are generally less effective for muscle growth. This is why people who only take a Winstrol cycle typically don’t make the dramatic size gains that people taking testosterone, Dianabol, and other estrogen-producing steroids do.
In other words, on paper Winstrol results should be better than pure testosterone, but in reality its muscle-building properties are hamstrung due to its inability to raise estrogen levels.
This is why Winstrol isn’t as effective at building muscle as testosterone despite having a higher anabolic score.
Thanks to its lack of aromatization into estrogen, Winstrol also produces little if any water retention or fat gain, which makes it an ideal steroid for cutting or lean bulking (or sprinting, if you’re Ben Johnson).
Finally, another reason many bodybuilders and athletes like Winstrol is that it also works synergistically with other steroids to promote muscle growth.
It does this by reducing the levels of a protein called sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in the blood. This protein regulates the effects of testosterone in the body by glomming onto the testosterone molecule, preventing it from giving its “message” to cells.
By reducing SHBG levels in the blood, Winstrol increases the effectiveness of whatever other steroids you take, too.
Although all anabolic steroids reduce SHBG levels, Winstrol is particularly effective at this.
A good example of this is a study conducted by scientists at the University of Hamburg, who gave 25 young men and women a 0.2 mg/kg stanozolol dose (Winstrol) for three days. This Winstrol dosage works out to be what a small bodybuilder would take.
The scientists took measurements of everyone’s SHBG and hormone levels before and 5, 6, 7, and 8 days after they started taking Winstrol.
The scientists found that Winstrol reduced the subject’s SHBG levels by 48% after a week, on average. For comparison, testosterone typically reduces SHBG levels by around 30%.
All in all, what this means is that Winstrol will generally improve the effectiveness of other steroids you take, as well as boost muscle growth by itself.
This is part of why most informed steroid users take a Winstrol cycle in addition to other steroids, like testosterone.
So, now you know all of the “perks” of taking Winstrol.
What are the downsides?
If you look online, these are the main things people will warn you of:
- Liver damage
- A drop in natural testosterone levels and testicle size
- Achy joints
- Toxin exposure from tainted steroids
Sounds fun! Let’s go over each one.
There are two primary ways to take steroids:
- Orally in the form of pills
- Intramuscularly in the form of injections
The reason many bodybuilders inject steroids is that they’re easily absorbed by the body, multiple steroids can be mixed together in a single shot, and the steroids don’t have to pass through the digestive system before entering the blood.
The downside is that it involves injecting yourself with a needle at least once per week and often several times per week. Needles and needle marks are also harder to hide than pills.
Oral steroids work a bit differently.
Most steroids like testosterone are destroyed in the liver by an enzyme called 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17beta-HSD). You could swallow a whole bottle of testosterone, and only a small fraction would ever show up in your bloodstream. Probably not even enough to fail a drug test.
To prevent this from happening, chemists combine steroids with a particular combination of carbon and hydrogen atoms, a process known as alkalization.
When the liver tries to break down alkylated steroids, they simply pass on through to the blood where they quickly begin telling your muscles to grow.
There’s a major downside of alkylated steroids, though: liver damage.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly why or how this occurs, but the most promising theory seems to be that the liver is highly sensitive to anabolic steroids. When it isn’t able to break down the steroids—which is the case with oral steroids like stanozolol—the excess steroids can cause liver damage and dysfunction.
The most common form of liver damage is known as cholestasis, which is a medical condition where the flow of bile from the liver into the digestive system is impaired.
This causes a buildup of bile salts, bilirubin, and other digestive compounds in the liver and blood, which causes all kinds of problems including:
- Clay-colored stool
- Amber colored urine
- Stomach pain
- Reduced appetite
- Death of liver tissue
The good news is that you usually have to be taking oral steroids for quite a while or in very large doses for these side effects to appear. This is why most informed steroid users only take oral steroids for 8 to 12 weeks or less before giving their livers a break.
That said, there are no long-term studies on how Winstrol dosage affects the liver, or how taking a combination of Winstrol and other anabolic steroids might affect liver health.
No matter how you slice it, oral steroids like Winstrol are more dangerous than injectable steroids when it comes to liver health. There’s also no way to know what the long-term effects will be on your health.
Like every other steroid, Winstrol reduces your natural testosterone levels.
This is an unavoidable, intractable, inherent side effect of all steroids, and something that can’t be reduced, modified, or changed whatsoever.
Anyone that says differently is either lying, ignorant of their actual testosterone levels, or are taking fake or watered down steroids.
To understand why natural testosterone levels always drop when you consume any kind of anabolic steroid, you first have to understand how testosterone is produced in the body.
The process goes like this:
- Testosterone is produced in the testes in men (and ovaries in women). When testosterone levels begin to flag, a portion of the brain known as the hypothalamus senses this and releases a hormone called Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH).
- When the pituitary gland senses the high levels of GnRH, it produces luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which trigger specialized cells in the testes known as Leydig cells to produce testosterone.
- As testosterone levels rise, the hypothalamus produces less GnRH, testosterone production decreases, and the cycle repeats itself.
Assuming someone is otherwise healthy, this system does a remarkably good job of keeping testosterone levels within a relatively narrow range.
Everything changes when you introduce anabolic steroids into the mix, though.
The massive rise in testosterone levels triggers the hypothalamus to more or less shut down GnRH production, which shuts down LH and FSH production, which shuts down testosterone production.
Within days of taking steroids, natural testosterone production falls to almost nothing, and over several months, testicle size shrinks as well.
The only way to increase natural testosterone production and testicle size again is to stop taking steroids, and even then it can take months before testosterone levels and testicle size return to normal.
Due to the fact that Winstrol works the same way as testosterone, chances are that the effects are similar.
You can expect a major drop in testosterone levels in the short-term, a drop in testicle size in the long-term, and a long, frustrating, low-energy road to recovery after you stop taking Winstrol.
If you search for “Winstrol side effects” online, you’ll often see people claim that Winstrol makes their joints feel achy, sore, and stiff.
Chances are good they’re mistaken, though.
As you know, Winstrol causes little to no water retention, which makes you look leaner and more “full” and “dry.” You’ll often hear bodybuilders make the apocryphal claim that Winstrol does this by “pulling water out of your joints.”
Although Winstrol doesn’t cause significant water retention like other steroids, it doesn’t dehydrate you or pull water out of your joints or any other part of your body.
There are two more likely explanations of why bodybuilders complain of joint pain when taking Winstrol:
- They read it online, assumed it would happen to them, and then experienced joint pain thanks to the nocebo effect or blamed any joint pain they actually did experience on Winstrol.
- They were training harder, more often, and with more volume, which are some of the Winstrol benefits. Their joints started feeling sore thanks to the significant uptick in training volume and intensity, not the Winstrol.
In fact, steroids generally promote tissue growth, healing, and recovery, so you’d expect steroids (including Winstrol) to make your joints more durable, resilient, and strong while you’re taking them, not weaker.
Although it’s possible that certain steroids might cause joint pain, we simply don’t have enough evidence to know for sure, and very little research suggests this is the case.
Instead, it’s more likely this is an unfounded facet of bodybuilding lore, handed down from one generation to the next on anonymous Internet forums.
Acne is caused by a bacterium which primarily resides in the oil of the skin.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why or how it flares up, but things that increase oil production in the skin—like the rapid rise in androgenic hormones that accompanies adolescence—also tend to increase acne.
Testosterone and other steroids also increase oil production in the skin, which has the potential to give you acne or make existing acne much worse.
Typically, the acne is most severe around the shoulders, chest, and upper back, like this:
And if you’re thinking you’re safe because you don’t have acne now, think again.
Pete Rubish, a powerlifter who’s been open about his steroid use, also had clear skin before he started taking steroids. After a few months of taking steroids he says, “It’s so bad that if someone literally just pats you on the back you’re in horrible pain.”
More disturbingly, he said it also got worse after he stopped taking drugs, and it didn’t go away until he went to a dermatologist and started taking acne medication.
There isn’t much direct research on Winstrol and acne, but it appears to be more mild than testosterone in this regard.
That said, people’s reaction to Winstrol varies, and it’s possible some people might get more or less acne than others.
Although acne is a temporary side effect of Winstrol use, it can cause permanent scarring.
Currently, no companies produce Winstrol for human consumption, which means when you buy Winstrol, you’re putting your health and life in the hands of private labs or individuals who have stolen it from pharmaceutical companies making it for animals.
Needless to say, their products undergo no formal oversight, regulation, or testing procedures, which means the product you end up with could be counterfeit, tainted, and watered-down.
Watered-down steroids are exactly what they sound like—steroids mixed with other inert or less powerful compounds designed to pad profit margins. While these won’t produce the results most users want, they aren’t necessarily any more dangerous than other steroids like Winstrol.
A more serious problem are tainted steroids, which are often contaminated with toxins such as heavy metals, pathogens, and various contaminants, which can cause a long list of health problems that may not show up until years after you’ve stopped taking steroids.
There’s no way to know what percentage of steroids on the market are tainted, but it’s likely significant. For example, a study conducted by the Center for Preventative Doping Research found that of 70 different anabolic steroids seized in various police raids, 34% didn’t contain the ingredients listed on the label.
They also found that without sophisticated testing methods, it’s often very difficult to differentiate between real and counterfeit steroids.
While they didn’t test the steroids for contaminants, it’s also likely a much higher percentage contained various toxins and other pollutants and impurities.
Finally, unlike some other drugs, there are no reliable at-home tests steroid users can employ to ensure the steroids they’re taking are pure.
All steroid users can do is try to find a supplier they trust, inspect the packaging and products as best they can, and hope for the best.
Winstrol, like all steroids, causes many other side effects that could fill their own article.
Instead of going through all of them, here’s a short list of what you get to look forward to when taking a Winstrol cycle:
- Night sweats
- Increased blood pressure
- Hair loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Increased aggression
- Increased risk of prostate, brain, and breast cancer
- Increased risk of heart disease, permanent testicular atrophy, insulin resistance, nosebleeds, and other medical issues.
Now, at this point you may be thinking, why on Earth would anyone ever touch this stuff?
Well, I think this post from an Internet forum more or less sums it up (the text is hard to read, so I’ve written it out):
“Anyone else not going for a beach body? I honestly want people to see me and be scared. I want to be that freakishly muscled and strong kinda look. **** appeasing others. This is what I want for myself. I’m probably going to start heavy anabolic abuse at some point when I can afford it and it is optimal to do so. I don’t care about my body at all I just want to get so big and strong I don’t even look human and I can lift godly amounts of weight.
Obviously I have mental issues but I also don’t want to be cured. I want this for myself and I’m willing to sacrifice happiness and my own body to get there. Was wondering if there’s anyone else like this out there?”
The fact is that most people who are taking anabolic steroids don’t care that much about their bodies, their long-term health, or their vitality, despite their frequent claims to the contrary.
They just want to be big, lean, and jacked, and they want it now.
Many steroid users claim they only take steroids in a healthy way, and that they’d never compromise their health. In the words of outspoken steroid user Rich Piana, “. . . I would never in a million years risk ruining my health or ruining my future due to bodybuilding.”
He died at age 46, likely due in part to using steroids for 27 years.
The bottom line is that no matter what steroid users say, they are putting their health at risk by taking steroids. There are ways to reduce the risk (not taking massive doses, taking periodic breaks, etc.), but you can’t eliminate them entirely.
If someone is just taking Winstrol, it’s often surprisingly difficult to tell if they’re on steroids or natural.
This is because Winstrol results aren’t as striking as the results you get from other anabolic steroids, and while it does increase muscle mass, it doesn’t produce the massive, dry, lean physiques you’re probably used to seeing on Instagram.
For example, here’s a good example of some Winstrol before and after photos of someone who is relatively new to lifting weights after an 8-week Winstrol cycle:
I pulled that picture from a forum where many steroid users openly discuss their results. In this case, the person used a relatively small dose over a fairly short period of time. If they’d taken a higher dose over a longer period of time, the results would have been more dramatic.
While the guy obviously made much faster progress than you could achieve naturally, he doesn’t look like he’s on steroids.
Here are five more examples of athletes who were caught taking Winstrol (and likely other steroids as well):
As you can see, all of them look fit and/or muscular, but none of them stand out as an obvious steroid user.
The point is this:
Not everyone takes steroids to get jacked, and it’s often hard to tell if someone is on steroids simply by looking at them.
Steroids also directly improve performance in most sports and indirectly improve performance in almost every sport by allowing athletes to recover from more training.
For these people, gaining muscle is just a side effect of the drug and not their primary reason for taking it.
Unless someone is an IFBB pro or looks like one, it’s rarely obvious if someone is on steroids at all, much less what they’re taking. The only way to know for sure is to take repeated blood tests over a long period of time when they’re looking and performing their best, and that simply isn’t feasible.
Barring that, you can estimate the chances someone’s on steroids by looking at how much muscle they have per unit of height. This is referred to as someone’s fat-free mass index (FFMI), and if it’s above a certain threshold, the chances someone is on steroids skyrocket.
If you want to calculate someone’s FFMI and learn more about this measurement tool, check out the Legion FFMI Calculator.
FFMI will only tell you whether or not someone’s taking steroids, though. It won’t tell you what they’re taking, and there’s no way to know that for sure.
Anavar, also known as oxandrolone, is another anabolic steroid that’s been altered to produce fewer androgenic (masculinizing) side effects. This is why it’s a favorite among female bodybuilders, physique competitors, and Instagram fitness personalities.
The reason many people bracket Winstrol and Anavar together is because they both tend to have fairly mild side effects compared to traditional steroids and they’re both taken orally in pill form. Although some steroid-users claim that Anavar produces fewer side effects than Winstrol, no scientific studies have compared the effects of these two drugs.
It is illegal to use anabolic steroids like Winstrol in most countries without a prescription. In the United States, anabolic steroids like Winstrol are Schedule III controlled substances, which means taking them comes with big fines and potential jail time.
Strangely, it is still legal for horses to take Winstrol and several other anabolic steroids such as Equipose, Durabolin and testosterone.
Winstrol is also banned by most sports federations including the United States Anti-Doping Administration (USADA), the World Anti-Doping Administration (WADA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
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