'Andro' May Be Useless, May Be Dangerous
Feb. 8, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Androstenedione, the popular supplement called
'andro,' might increase blood levels of the male hormone testosterone, but that
does not mean taking it will lead to bigger muscles, experts say. And it could
mean the development of potentially serious side effects down the road.
"For one thing, I do not think it should be classified as a dietary
supplement," says Gary Wadler, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine
at the New York University School of Medicine and an advisor to the U.S.
government's 'drug czar.' "At the very least, it should be classified as a
prescription drug ... Simply put, you're ingesting a supplement that your body
is converting into a controlled substance."
Putting federal drug laws aside, Wadler says there's also a good health
reason to avoid andro: the possibility of long-term adverse effects.
"Clearly, we know from a variety of experiences with humans, that the
effects [of hormones] may not be manifest for months, years, decades
later." Wadler says an example of this phenomenon is the potential
increased risk of cancer, many years later, in women who used the female
hormones estrogen and progesterone.
"You have to remember that testosterone is metabolized ... to
estrogen," Wadler says. It's the reason bodybuilders using drugs similar to
androstenedione -- anabolic steroids -- sometimes develop large breasts and
shrunken testicles. "People taking anabolic steroids have long known that
is something they have to deal with," he says. "It was the price they
had to pay for increased strength." The question is whether they'll pay a
much higher price in years ahead.
And still open for debate is whether taking andro will even result in
increased strength. Bodybuilding dogma says more male hormone means a greater
potential for bigger muscles. But an endocrinology expert says that when it
comes to andro, that's not necessarily so. "The amount of testosterone
[produced] is not as important as the amount that can bind to particular
tissues," says William Kraemer, PhD, professor and director of the Human
Performance Laboratory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Testosterone binds to all sorts of tissues, Kraemer explains, so there's a
real question whether muscle tissue benefits in particular from higher blood
levels of the hormone. "If [androstenedione builds muscles], nobody's
proven it yet," he says. "We're in the early stages of understanding it
Still, Kraemer says he definitely wouldn't recommend use of andro in women
and children, because it could cause masculine side effects -- the growth of
facial hair, for example. He also suggests that there's a real question whether
it's worth the trouble in men -- even in those who might benefit from a bit of
extra testosterone. "Some people have thought about using it in older men,
but the body tightly regulates testosterone production," he says. Which
means andro might send testosterone levels soaring initially, but they would
just as quickly drop back down.