No Gain (and No Pain) for Andro and DHEA
Jan. 6, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Seen those advertisements about the body-building
effects of the popular supplements DHEA and androstenedione? Don't buy them.
Contrary to some previous studies and a lot of industry hype, a new study in
the December issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise finds
they are ineffective.
Among those disappointed with the study's findings -- its lead author.
"I was hoping for more," M. Brian Wallace, PhD, director of research,
applied physiology, and nutrition at LGE Performance Systems of Orlando, Fla.,
tells WebMD. What Wallace got instead was statistical proof refuting claims
that using DHEA or androstenedione, commonly called "andro," leads to
increased lean body mass and a decrease in body fat.
Forty middle-aged men with more than a year's experience in weight training
participated in the study. Their ages ranged from 40 to 60 -- an age group that
should have benefited most from using the supplements, since natural production
of these hormones drops off steadily after young adulthood, according to the
The men were assigned to three supplementation groups. For a period of three
months, one group took a daily dose of androstenedione, another group received
a dose of DHEA, and a third group got a placebo. All the men continued their
usual exercise and dietary regimens during this time.
Wallace says that theoretically both androstenedione and DHEA should have
increased lean body mass at the expense of fat, because they are transformed in
the body to the male hormone testosterone. But there was little change in
muscle mass or body fat content using either supplement. There also was no
significant change in muscular strength, based on how much the men could bench
and leg press. And their aerobic capacity didn't change much, either.
At the dosage used in the study -- 100 mg per day -- the researchers found
no significant side effects at the end of the study.
"I think the big problem with the study is the low dose used [100
mg]," says Cathy Fomous, PhD. "Typically, weightlifters take 500-1200
mg a day. It seems to me they didn't really test a realistic
Fomous, who is a science communicator with the industry trade group the
Council for Responsible Nutrition, says that the low dose also may be why the
researchers found no adverse effects from the supplements.
But the study results are no surprise to Douglas King, PhD, who has
extensively researched androstenedione. King, an associate professor in the
department of health and human performance at Iowa State University in Des
Moines, says that neither DHEA nor androstenedione should be considered
"anabolic" (body-building) steroids because they just don't do the
"It's pretty clear that androstenedione doesn't raise testosterone
levels, and the same is true of DHEA," King says. What is equally clear to
King, based on his own research, is that androstenedione reduces levels of
"good" cholesterol (HDL) -- findings published last summer in
TheJournal of the American Medical Association.