Post PCT Panel
This PCT after cycle panel is designed to measure the health and recovery of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Testicular Axis (HPTA) after attempting to normalize it spontaneously or with the use of Post-Cycle Therapy (PCT) . PCT is prescribed by some physicians for men who stop testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) or other androgens. Fasting is required for CMP (glucose test).
Post-Cycle Therapy (PCT) Panel: A Comprehensive Guide to Hormonal Health Post-Steroid Cycle
This PCT after cycle panel is designed to measure the health and recovery of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Testicular Axis (HPTA) after attempting to normalize it spontaneously or with the use of Post-Cycle Therapy (PCT) . For men who stop taking testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) or other androgens, some doctors prescribe PCT. Fasting is required for the CMP (glucose test).
What is a PCT Cycle?
A PCT cycle, or post-cycle therapy cycle, is a regimen that bodybuilders and athletes follow after completing a steroid cycle. The goal of a PCT cycle is to stimulate natural hormone production and restore the body's regular balance, which may have been suppressed due to the use of steroids. This is achieved through the use of various medications and supplements, such as pct supplements, that help regulate hormone levels and prevent side effects such as gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in men) and infertility. It is essential to follow a proper PCT protocol to ensure optimal recovery and minimize any potential long-term health risks associated with steroid use, including preserving muscle mass, strength gains, and kickstarting endogenous testosterone production. Nutrition plays a key role during post-cycle therapy, as a diet rich in essential nutrients can help support hormonal balance and overall health. Adequate protein intake is necessary to preserve muscle mass, while a balanced intake of carbohydrates and healthy fats will support overall energy levels and metabolic health.
What is the Post-PCT Panel?
The Post-PCT Panel is a specialized set of tests aimed at assessing the health and recovery status of your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Testicular Axis (HPTA) following a steroid cycle. Whether you've relied on natural normalization or used Post Cycle Therapy (PCT), this panel provides the essential metrics for understanding your body's hormonal balance.
Why Is Post Cycle Therapy (PCT) Important?
Post Cycle Therapy is a regimen undertaken after completing a cycle of performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids. While these substances can lead to impressive muscle gains, they often come with a downside—negative effects on your testosterone levels and overall physical well-being. Here’s the science behind it:
- The Steroid Impact: Anabolic steroids introduce a high level of artificial testosterone into your system. When you cease usage, your natural testosterone production takes a hit, leading to various physical symptoms.
- The Recovery Phase: Your body will try to naturally reboot its testosterone production. However, reaching a hormonal balance could be a long, drawn-out process.
- Role of PCT: Post Cycle Therapy aims to expedite your return to hormonal balance by stimulating natural testosterone production. However, the effectiveness of PCT is still under scientific scrutiny.
Why Do You Need the Post-PCT Panel?
The Post-PCT Panel is crucial for evaluating:
- Testosterone Balance: Supplemental testosterone can inhibit your body's natural production, impacting the levels of Luteinizing Hormone (LH).
- Sperm Quality: Inhibition of LH also affects levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which is vital for sperm production.
For optimum accuracy, it’s advised to take this panel at least four weeks post-PCT and preferably in a fasting state in the morning.
What Tests Are Included?
The Post-PCT Panel offers a wide range of tests:
- Ultra Sensitive Estradiol (E2) by LC/MS: Precision in estradiol levels for men.
- Total and Free Testosterone LC/MS: No upper limit restrictions.
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH): Key to testosterone production.
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): Vital for sperm production.
- CBC - Complete Blood Count: Includes hematocrit.
- CMP - Comprehensive Metabolic Panel: Covers liver and kidney functions, glucose levels, and electrolytes. Note: Fasting is required for an accurate glucose test.
The Critical Role of Post-Cycle Therapy After Anabolic Steroid Use
Understanding the Dangers of Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), also known as exogenous administration of testosterone, have been the go-to option for many health professionals seeking enhanced muscle growth and increased muscle size. Unfortunately, this comes at a high price—severe health issues ranging from heart problems and psychological disturbances to even death. AAS abuse, specifically steroid abuse, disrupts the natural testosterone production, leaving individuals struggling with debilitating conditions such as extreme fatigue, depression, insomnia, and a loss of sexual function. For some, these adverse health effects extend to suicidal thoughts. Testicular atrophy, which means the testicles getting smaller, is one of the bad physical effects of using anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS). This can make it harder to get pregnant and cause hormonal imbalances. The impact of AAS on the hypothalamic–pituitary–testicular (HPT) axis, through exogenous administration of testosterone, is a particular concern for users and health professionals alike. The usage of AAS suppresses the endogenous production of testosterone (Pope and Brower, 2005, Reyes-Fuentes and Veldhuis, 1993). Many AAS users resume endogenous production of testosterone following the cessation of AAS use (Kanayama et al).
Post-Cycle Therapy: A Glimmer of Hope
While stopping AAS can trigger these dire consequences, there is no established medical protocol to alleviate the health consequences of chronic HPT suppression during the transition period. Some men, though, do things on their own and use self-administered post-cycle therapy (PCT) with drugs like human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERM), and aromatase inhibitors (AI) to try to regulate their hormone levels and get their bodies to make healthy levels of testosterone again.
The Scottish Clinic Study: PCT's Impact
A groundbreaking clinical audit from a Scottish addiction service clinic gives us new information about what happens after stopping AAS, how PCT can help improve performance, and the level of visible body muscularity. The study focused on 613 men who had ceased AAS usage between 2015 and 2022. Researchers noted that a significant majority (76%) of these individuals turned to PCT, including the use of growth hormone. The findings were promising—men who underwent PCT showed a marked improvement in their testosterone levels, suggesting a quicker and more probable return to normal hormonal function. PIED consumers who access GPs may also be engaging in polysubstance use, although the temporal order of this relationship is still unclear. This study shows how important PCT is for giving AAS users the right kind of information, like how to inject, how effective the substance is, the right dosage, side effects, and the amount of visible muscle on the body. Steroids were seen as easier to access than PCT; as such, participants tended to continue to use steroids rather than taper down their use, leading to health concerns. Interested participants were asked to contact one of the clinics to learn more about the study and how they could contribute to the research.
Positive Outcomes with PCT
The study highlights that PCT can significantly improve the chances of recovering the body's ability to produce testosterone naturally. Men who used fewer AAS for shorter periods and who had been off AAS for longer durations were more likely to see their reproductive hormones return to normal levels when incorporating PCT. Cortisol management is also essential in PCT, as it helps lower cortisol levels in the body and prevents catabolism, which is the breakdown of essential body tissues and compounds.
Implications for Future Treatment
The importance of PCT, as a component of PIED use, extends beyond immediate physical recovery; it's a vital part of a broader harm reduction strategy for PIED users, particularly with mental health considerations. PCT, which stands for post-cycle therapy, is an important feature of PIED use. PIED users refer to the period when they are using as “on-cycle” while the period when they are not using PIEDs is referred to as “off-cycle” (Hildebrandt, Langenbucher, Lai, Loeb, & Hollander, 2011). PCT is a major element of the broader strategies that PIED users employ to minimize the negative health effects of PIED use, both during and after use (see Adair (2015) for an overview of these non-PCT strategies). The aim of this study from Scotland is to add valuable knowledge to existing literature and present a significant leap forward in developing effective treatments for men determined to stop using AAS. This study adds to the body of research that suggests PCT, as a component of pied use, may act as a harm reduction measure, allowing PIED users to safely cut down on or stop using steroids or deal with any negative health effects of their use, especially those that have to do with their mental health. More research into PCT use in this population is needed.
The journey of recovering from AAS use may be challenging for some drug users. However, with the potential benefits of post-cycle therapy emerging from studies like the one in Scotland, there is hope for those suffering from the side effects of steroid cessation. Many AAS users seek out substances to use post-cycle to mitigate problems associated with the resumption of endogenous testosterone production following the cessation of exogenous AAS use. The cessation of AAS use is a crucial step in the recovery process, as many AAS users resume endogenous production of testosterone after discontinuing the use of steroids (Kanayama et al). It's a conversation that requires more attention, more research, and an integrative approach to health and well-being.
For individuals considering or currently dealing with PCT, it is always recommended to consult healthcare professionals. Self-medication can be dangerous, and proper guidance is crucial in navigating the path to recovery.
- Grant, et al. Self-administration Of Post-cycle Therapy Is Associated With Increased Probability Of Subsequent Normalisation Of Reproductive Hormones Following Anabolic-androgenic Steroid Cessation In Men. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 1 October 2023
- Pereira et al. "Anabolic Steroids Among Resistance Training Practitioners." PLoS One, 2019.
- McBride, J. A., & Coward, R. M. "Recovery of Spermatogenesis Following Testosterone Replacement Therapy or Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Use." Asian J Androl, 2016.
- AlShareef, S. et al. "Anabolic Steroid Use Disorder." StatPearls, 2022.
- Delu, A. et al. "CC Improved Testosterone and Sperm Concentration in Hypogonadal Males." Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine, 2020.
- de Ronde, W. "Unjustified Prescribing of CMA and PCT, Lack of Awareness!" Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 2020.
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Suggested Reading: Testosterone Replacement Blood Test Targets
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