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Nov. 21, 2000 -- Several studies in recent months have shown that the over-the-counter dietary supplement androstenedione, commonly known as "andro," does not improve athletic performance and may cause serious harm to the body. Researchers reporting in the Nov. 22 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association may have found another reason not to take the substance: Andro can contain a contaminant that tests positive for a banned steroid.

"Our findings question the purity of over-the-counter steroids," says study author Don Catlin, MD, of the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Very small amounts of steroids are absorbed by the body, so even a tiny amount of contaminant can result in a positive test."

Catlin notes that competitive athletes are scrupulously watched these days. "If you take this supplement and you test positive, you could be out of competition for two years," he tells WebMD. "The bottom line for athletes is that it is not safe to take anything."

Researchers divided 37 healthy men aged 20 to 44 into three groups to test how their bodies reacted to andro. The first group took 100 mg a day for a week, the second group took 300 mg a day for a week, and a third group did not consume andro at all.

Surprisingly, the urine of all 24 men who consumed andro contained 19-norandrosterone, a byproduct of the banned steroid nandrolone. Twenty of the men's samples contained enough of the steroid byproduct to test positive at the Olympics, according to Catlin.

"We wondered where the 19-norandrosterone came from, because it's not likely to be a metabolic byproduct of andro," he explains.

Catlin and colleagues decided to analyze the content of the andro capsules. What they discovered was that each capsule contained enough trace contaminant to produce a positive urine test for steroid use.

Catlin says the manufacturer of the andro cannot be blamed since the amount of the byproduct is far below the FDA levels for regulated drugs. And not all andro may be similarly contaminated, he says.

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