Androstenedione: What is it?
Androstenedione is a naturally occurring, 19-carbon, steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands, the gonads of mammals and the pollen of many plants. Androstenedione derives from either 17-a-hydroxyprogesterone or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and its production along the biological pathway to naturally become testosterone.
Androstenedione is a direct precursor molecule to testosterone. Only one enzyme is needed to convert androstenedione to testosterone. And while androstenedione is primarily utilized for testosterone production, some androstenedione also secretes into the plasma. In the plasma, it converts in peripheral tissues to testosterone or is metabolized by the liver and removed from the body.
What is it supposed to do?
The supplemental form of androstenedione, called ‘andro’ for short, was marketed to mimic the actions of naturally occurring androstenedione. Its alleged effects included increased muscle mass and strength, decreased recovery time, added bone density and bone strength, stimulation of linear growth and bone maturation. Andro’s most appealing aspect, however, was the claim that androstenedione eradicates estrogen, resulting in zero estrogenic side effects.
How does it work?
The theory was that if additional androstenedione were introduced, the body would treat it like it occurs naturally. This leads to abnormally high testosterone levels because the ingested andro serves as a manufactured, inactive precursor to testosterone. Males produce testosterone—an anabolic sex hormone—in large quantities. The resulting spike in testosterone upon its direct conversion from andro should enhance the adaptations of resistance and strength training athletes.
Review of current research:
Research conducted on andro ultimately led to its ban as a supplement. Upon investigating claims made by andro manufacturers that the supplement was completely safe, researchers found these statements to be inaccurate, even hazardous. Institutions like the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and The Food and Drug Administration have all conduct research on Andro. There have been countless confirmations that andro both has limited effects on testosterone levels (300mg increases levels by about 35%), and significantly increases estrogen levels.
While androstenedione is the precursor for testosterone, it is also the precursor for the primary female sex hormone, estrogen. The human body strives to internally maintain a specific ratio of testosterone to estrogen. If one of these hormones’ count increases in the body, the body works to increase the opposite hormone’s count to maintain the proper proportion. In other words, while some andro supplemented into the diet becomes testosterone, a proportional amount also converts to estrogen.
Supplement manufacturers claimed that a dosage of 60mg to 300mg, depending on the supplement, would be necessary to elicit a testosterone increase of 100% or greater.
After extensive data collection and analysis by numerous parties, andro supplementation could result in the development of numerous estrogenic side effects. These side effects include gynecomastia (male breast development), pancreatic, kidney or liver cancer/damage, premature baldness, enlarged prostate, severe acne, reduced sperm count, infertility, testicular atrophy, HDL (good) cholesterol reduction, glucose intolerance, blood clots and increases the risk of heart attack. After a review of these tests and the supplement’s risks, a ban on andro began on January 21, 2005.
Upon review of the supplement’s effects and side effects, it is concluded with confidence that the use of androstenedione supplementation should not be considered for any purpose. Even though andro does increase testosterone levels, as commonly advertised, the resulting estrogen increase and estrogenic side effects greatly outweigh any potential benefits from the use of andro.