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Androstenedione: Position Statement


Before I comment on androstenedione and its controversy in sport and bodybuilding, let’s start first with how to pronounce it. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (26th Edition) lists it as follows: an-dro-stene-di-one (an-dro-steen-die-own) an androgenic steroid of weaker biological potency than testosterone; secreted by the testis, ovary and adrenal cortex.

Dorland’s Medical Dictionary (28th Edition) includes a small difference in pronunciation on the fourth syllable (an-dro-steen-dee-own) and in addition to Stedman’s definition mentions that it can be converted metabolically to testosterone and other androgens. Take your pick (I use Stedman’s) or use everyone’s current favorite for sake of sounding like a fool — say Andro for short.

Muscular Development columnist Bob Lefavi, PhD calls it "one step away". Some in the fitness industry call it the "natural anabolic solution". In his popular Sports Supplement Review, Bill Phillips calls Andro the East German "Secret Weapon". Dr. Michael Colgan refers to it as "an intermediate steroid with no general benefit for health, fitness or muscle". Health Canada calls it a Schedule "F" Drug (illegal to possess without a prescription). I call Andro "a grey supplement not worth the risk".

With health in mind, Andro pushes the envelope. With performance in mind, its effect is meager at best (especially when compared to creatine) and supported with very little research. There’s no guarantee the body will convert Andro when taken orally to testosterone instead of estrone (a potent form of estrogen) and even if there was, the artificial and temporary elevation of testosterone (140-237%) known to occur in some males taking 300mg could spell all kinds of potential trouble down the line, especially in young kids and women.

I don’t like any supplement I can’t feed to my kids in reduced quantities. And if it isn’t good for them for whatever reason, then how can it be good for me? If your passion for muscle and strength is greater than your quest for health, then forget Andro and just use a real anabolic, like nandrolone or stanozolol. Why bother with a masquerade? By comparison Andro is a weak anabolic, meaning that when the decision is made by whomever to cross the chemical line, Andro doesn’t even rate (unless its used to alter one’s testosterone/epitestosterone ratio for the purpose of beating a drug test).

For those who do care about safety, health and compliance to law and competitive doping rules and regulations, there are far more effective alternatives than Andro which can give you a much bigger bang for your buck (without negative outcome). I already mentioned creatine (monohydrate). The others include precise quantities of glutamine, HMB, whey protein isolate, mixed antioxidants and essential nutrients. These substances work best when applied like exercise — they should be quantified and executed correctly, planned in advance in relation to personal objectives, used consistently, progressively utilized and reinforced with routine medical and fitness assessments designed to measure progress and improve performance without compromising health.

Androstenedione is an intermediate steroid hormone. All steroid hormones are cholesterol derivatives (other types of hormones include polypeptides such as insulin, amines like melatonin and eicosanoids such as prostaglandins). But Andro is not technically classified as an anabolic steroid. Anabolic steroids include testosterone and analogs or copies of testosterone (not precursors). They’re controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the States where it’s a felony to possess them without a medical prescription. Andro is a dietary supplement in the U.S.(like DHEA) and is sold without prescription in health food stores, corner groceries and gas stations. It is currently protected from the FDA by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).

As a direct potential precursor to testosterone near the end of the line, it carries similar risks as testosterone and agreed, the risks probably aren’t as intense. But Andro is still more androgenic than anabolic, which means it can (and has) encouraged development of male characteristics in women or female characteristics in men. Andro down-regulates (reduces the number of) testosterone receptors on target tissues and in response to the body’s natural feedback inhibitory system, it can also decrease the body’s natural production of testosterone (the company’s who promote it even suggest cycling it). This is the scary part for every man who values the procreative function and size of his reproductive glands!

And what if Andro is buffed up with Tribulus Terrestris to stimulate the release of luteinizing hormone (LH), Chrysin (Flavone X) to prevent the conversion of testosterone to estrogen (aromatization), Saw Palmetto Berry to inhibit the formation of DHT (associated with prostate enlargement and hair loss) and even some Indole-3-Carbinols to improve and modify estrogen metabolism, what then? I say it's probably NOT any better, still a gamble and nothing compared to the benefits of 1) high-quality intense training, 2) EXCELLENT NUTRITION and 3) dietary supplements formulated with safety, effectiveness and objective science.

If you’ve got Andro on your mind, I wonder which one of those three factors isn’t?

*NEWS FLASH*

Androstenedione has no effect on testosterone

Dr. Douglas King and colleagues at the Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory of Iowa State University demonstrated the effects of 300 milligrams per day of androstenedione, by random selection, on 30 young men (aged 19-29) while performing an eight-week full-body weight training exercise routine.

Half the group received a placebo, while the other half received the hormone. The researchers measured free and total testosterone levels, estrogen levels, strength, muscle mass and body composition in both groups.

Results

Those using androstenedione experienced a 175 percent increase in blood levels of androstenedione, but zero effect on testosterone. Andro also had zero effect on strength, muscle mass and body composition, as both groups experienced equal results from the weight training.

Serum estradiol, a form of estrogen, was significantly higher in the andro group at two, five and eight weeks. Elevated levels of estrogen in men are known to promote breast enlargement and are also associated with a higher risk of some cancers. There was no anabolic effect, and a significant reduction in protective HDL cholesterol.

~ King DS, et al. Effect of oral androstenedione on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 1999;281:2020-2028

Effects of Anabolic Precursors on Serum Testosterone Concentrations and Adaptations to Resistance Training in Young Men

The addition of DHEA, saw palmetto, Tribulus terrestris, chrysin and indole-3-carbinol to a supplement containing androstenedione does not enhance serum testosterone concentrations, changes in body composition, or strength associated with resistance training. These compounds do not prevent the increased formation of estrogens or decreased HDL-C observed with androstenedione supplementation.

International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2000, 10, 340-359

A total of 30 healthy young males performed 3 days of resistance training per week for 8 weeks. Each day during weeks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8 subjects consumed either placebo or a supplement which contained daily doses of 300mg androstenedione, 150mg DHEA, 750mg Tribulus terrestris, 625mg Chrysin, 300mg indole-3-carbinole and 540mg Saw palmetto. Supplementation was administered in a pattern of 2 weeks on supplements followed by 1 week off. Supplements were taken in three equal doses before 9am, at 3pm and at bedtime. Serum androstenedione concentrations were higher in those taking Andro after 2, 5 and 8 weeks, while serum concentrations of free and total testosterone were unchanged in both groups. Serum estradiol and estrone was higher in those taking Andro. Serum estradiol was elevated at weeks 2, 5 and 8 and serum estrone was elevated at weeks 5 and 8. Muscle strength increased similarly from weeks zero to 4, and again from weeks 4 to 8 in both treatment groups. There were no significant differences between the Andro and placebo group in body compostion.

Ingestion of the Andro compound did not cause short term or long term increases in serum testosterone concentrations in young men, in spite of increased serum androstenedione. While Tribulus terrestris is advertised to increase serum LH concentrations, the present results suggest that the inclusion of Tribulus terrestris does not alter hypothalamic-pituitary function. The 12% reduction in serum HDL-C cholesterol reflect a 10-15% increase in the risk for heart disease, indicating a potential for serious health consequences. Increased serum estrogen levels in men have been linked to prostate hypertrophy, pancreatic cancer, cardiovascular disease and gynecomastia. Elevated serum androstenedione concentrations may also be associated with some health risks, since elevated serum androstenedione levels may increase the risk of pancreatic and prostate cancer.

G.A. Brown, Matthew D. Vukovich, Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, Department of Health and Human Performance at Iowa State University, Ames, IA