Over the years we have discovered an increasing number of products on the market touted to help us achieve all of our wildest fitness desires faster, and with less effort. One problem is that most of these magical formulations are over-the-counter supplements which have not undergone proper testing, approval or authentication. Both serious athletes and the recreational fitness buff are seeking supplements which will improve their physique or performance more dramatically and faster than training alone can. However, buyer beware, what sounds too good to be true, usually is.
The interest in androstenedione, or andro as it is more commonly called, peaked with an announcement by Mark McGwire that he used this supplement on a regular basis during his quest to take the home-run record. Now Andro, and other testosterone boosting supplements, have become available in some sport nutrition and health food stores. Retailers promote claims that include increased lean muscle mass and performance, since usage supposedly increases the body's testosterone levels.
We are all too familiar with athletes using steroids to boost testosterone in order to improve physique and athletic performance, despite widespread claims regarding dangerous health implications. This is not to mention that anabolic steroids are a banned and illegal substance.
It is not surprising then, that Andro and other 'legal', 'natural steroid' supplements are being bought by consumers thinking they are a safer and better alternative to anabolic steroids. This article will summarize the literature available to date on Andro supplementation and will attempt to provide the reader with some information to help them make a more educated buying decision.
Efficacy of Andro Supplementation:
Andro is the immediate precursor to testosterone (and estrone), so the theory of supplementation is based on the assumption that it will be converted in the body to testosterone. However, in an extensive literature search, there were no documented studies found on performance effects or lean body mass effects with andro supplementation. In fact, andro is rarely mentioned in the literature with reference to any kind of athletic or sport supplementation. Seemingly, it is due to anecdotal reports on its effectiveness and the fact it is a direct testosterone precursor in the body, that this supplement has become so popular.
Two non-sport studies have suggested andro supplementation at 100-200 mg per day may increase testosterone to a small degree. For example, one found 10% of infused andro was converted to testosterone and the authors state this finding was similar to another study they cited.
Unfortunately, it was suggested the other 90% of the infused androstenedione was metabolized into compounds other than testosterone. In a second study, women saw as much as a 6 fold increase in their testosterone levels following oral andro usage. But when you think of how little testosterone women actually have in their body, this increase could be considered quite marginal.
Even if andro could increase testosterone, it does not mean testosterone levels would remain elevated for a long enough period of time or to high enough concentrations to see the results on enhanced mass and performance that are documented with anabolic steroid dosing. We know that steroids do significantly enhance these things, particularly when the user is experienced in weight training and is participating in an intense program concurrent with dosing.
Legalities of Andro Supplementation:
Steroids are banned from athletic competition and became an illegal and controlled substance because these synthetic testosterone agents are believed to be addictive.
Andro use is not illegal, but it is not allowed to be sold in Canada. Some sport nutrition stores however, choose to ignore this and sell it anyway. Andro is readily available in the US and can easily be found on the internet. In addition, DHEA in 1996 and Andro in 1997 were added to the list of banned substances by the IOC, National Football league and NCAA.
Safety Aspects of Andro Use:
Again, there are no direct studies done on andro use and the side effects of supplementation. However, side effects documented through testosterone increases from steroid use include:
Liver problems like hepatitis, tumors, blood filled cysts and cellular carcinoma.
HDL decreases and increased LDL cholesterol.
Hypertension, cardiac enlargement and stroke have been documented.
Diminished glucose tolerance and connective tissue abnormalities.
The body's own testosterone production is reduced which could result in lower sperm production, and reduced testicular size in men. This may reduce sex drive and in the long term may lead to prostate cancer.
Gynaecomastia can also develop when excess androgen is converted to estrogen in males. This means increased breast tissue may form as a result of high dosages.
In women, masculine characteristics often develop which include deepening of the voice, male-pattern baldness, increased body and facial hair, menstrual irregularities, clitoral hypertrophy and decreased breast size.
Teenagers may have premature closing of the epiphyseal plates of their bones, which may stunt growth.
Psychological effects are also known to occur during use. These can include manic depression, euphoria, diminished fatigue, irritability, hyperactivity, delusions, acute schizophrenia, increased aggression, violent behavior and thoughts of suicide.
Most of these side effects cease upon discontinuation of dosing.
There is an obvious lack of research and corresponding evidence on the efficacy of Andro supplementation, as there is on other sport supplements. It would be important to confirm if, and to what extent, Andro can increase circulating testosterone levels, as well as what implications supplementation might have on performance and lean muscle mass accretion. Currently retailers are claiming Andro supplementation is safe and effective at recommend doses of 100-200 mg per day. There is, at present, no basis for these claims. The effect of Andro (and its corresponding side effects) with suggested appropriate, safe dosages needs to be documented by controlled scientific studies before buyers are able to make informed and safe purchasing decisions.
Angela Walzak has a Master of Science degree in Exercise Physiology, and holds CSCS and PFLC fitness certifications. She has been a fitness co-ordinator for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Company, and was managing a fitness club in Cambridge. Currently she is the wellness director for the YMCA in Kitchener, Ontario.
PT January 2000