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Andro's Effects Still Controversial

WebMD Health News

March 17, 2000 (Atlanta) -- When taken in large doses, the popular yet controversial steroid hormone supplement called "andro" -- androstenedione -- causes blood vessels to dilate significantly, suggesting a protective effect on the heart, say researchers presenting a paper at the American College of Cardiology meeting held earlier this week in Anaheim, Calif. While their findings suggest a potential protective effect for the heart and blood vessels, the authors also issued a cautionary note to the public about possible long-term negative effects of taking large doses of andro.

"The effects on the cardiovascular system may be good or bad. We want the public to be aware that andro is not like a vitamin pill ... it's not a supplement that just works on muscle mass ... it has quite significant effects on the cardiovascular system. We don't know if, in the long term, there will be adverse effects," lead author Christian Zellner, MD, postdoctoral research fellow in cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco, tells WebMD.

The 11 volunteers in the study -- all healthy men about 35 years old and without risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes -- were given 50 mg of andro that dissolved under the tongue.

Researchers measured the amount of blood flow in blood vessels in the arm before and two hours after andro was taken. "There was a significant increase in forearm blood flow after administration of the drug," says Zellner.

In the second part of the study, the volunteers put their other arm in a bucket of ice water to simulate the stress on the body that occurs due to high blood pressure or heart failure. After taking the andro, the harmful narrowing effects on the blood vessels that occur from exposure to cold water or to physical stresses decreased significantly.

This effect of andro might offer protection to the heart and blood vessels, but a much larger, rigorous investigation is needed, according to Zellner. "However, because the study involved a single dose, in healthy people, we do not know what it will do in patients with heart failure. We have no idea what it will do in the long term."

Zellner also said that the findings of the study are difficult to interpret due to the fact that the men took the andro under the tongue as opposed to swallowing a pill. Therefore, the drug is not metabolized through the digestive tract and the ultimate effects could be different. "The doses were also very, very different. Our 50 mg sublingual [under-the-tongue dose] is quite a high dose, fivefold higher than [the typical] oral tablet you take." Large doses could have significantly damaging long-term effects in adolescents, he adds.

A recent study in the Feb. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association would tend to support that possibility. That study indicated that a 300 mg/day dose of oral (not sublingual) andro in healthy men could elevate testosterone levels, but also confirmed past work that indicated a dose as low as 100mg/day could also elevate estrogen levels, which, among other things, might result in breast enlargement over time.

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