Ever since Mark McGwire publicly announced his use of androstenedione, sales of this unregulated over-the-counter drug have skyrocketed. It has been touted as both a performance and recovery enhancer, and is being used by many athletes in many different sports. Anytime there is this much hype surrounding a purported performance-enhancing chemical, great caution is advised.
What is it?
Performance enhancing steroids are evaluated in terms of anabolic and androgenic effects. Anabolic means, "to build up", and androgenic refers to masculinizing effects. All of the biochemicals, natural and artificial, in this class of compounds have both anabolic and androgenic activity. It pays to keep this in mind when discussing anabolic steroids because the androgenic properties account for most of the side effects (more on this later).
Androstenedione is a naturally occurring androgenic steroid that is produced by the adrenal glands, ovaries, and testicles. Once released into the blood it is rapidly converted into testosterone, but there are also pathways through which androstenedione is converted into estrogen.
Note the obvious structural similarity between the two molecules
|The sordid tale of androstenedione in sports starts in the 1970s in former East Germany. Scientists there were the first to produce, and apply, the chemical. Exogenously administered androstenedione only has a short half-life; East German athletes snorted it as a nose spray an hour before competition (this was a team requirement in the 1988 Olympics). Taken this way it results in a rapid rise in testosterone, which lasts 1 3 hours. This was thought to aid performance although the exact effects arent known. Despite the fall of the East German regime, much of the compiled data of what they did to their athletes remains hidden. Hopefully, we now know enough not to repeat that dark chapter. (Although to witness the embarrassment of the 1998 Tour de Farce (France) due to widespread use of erythropoietin, it appears not.)
The combination of anabolic steroids, when administered to cause levels higher than normally found in the body, and strength training results in an increase in muscle size, strength, and fat free mass. Further effects are increased red blood cell mass, improved mood/aggression, and blunting of the catabolic effect of heavy training. These latter effects may enable endurance athletes to train harder while minimizing overtraining. Whether androstenedione use yields these performance enhancing effects, though, is yet to be directly determined.
Sounds too good to be harmless, right?
Undoubtedly a more important question than whether or not androstenedione is an effective performance enhancer, is the issue of safety. Because androstenedione is an androgen, toxicity is best discussed by reviewing the known harmful effects of other androgens.
Commonly seen side effects due to excess androgens are,
Less common or potential adverse effects,
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