Testosterone prohormone supplements: The Risks

Andro supplements don’t help and can be harmful

Testosterone prohormone sports supplements like DHEA and androstenedione are not just potentially harmful to health: they don’t actually do what they say on the tin. That’s the key conclusion of a major review carried out by US researchers.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione, androstenediol and a range of similar chemical compounds are marketed as prohormone nutritional supplements. They are frequently referred to generically as ‘andro’ supplements. Proponents claim that these supplements are converted to testosterone or testosterone analogues in the body where they enhance an athlete’s adaptations to resistance training and so build muscle.

Sales of androstenedione and 17 similar compounds are now specifically banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Food and Drug Administration, largely because of their supposed anabolic effects. But in fact, a comprehensive review of the research carried out to date reveals that andro supplements produce neither anabolic nor ergogenic effects in men.

According to the reviewers, DHEA, androstenedione, anadrostenediol and related supplements do not enhance the gains in muscle size or strength obtained from strength training alone. Furthermore, the change in hormone levels following the use of these supplements can lead to serious side effects, including heart disease and cancer.

Given these potential dangers and the lack of demonstrable benefits, it hardly seems worth it for athletes to take the risk of failing a drug test. ‘…the recent classification of androstenedione and related compounds as anabolic steroids may give the impression that testosterone precursor supplements are indeed anabolic, with the unintentional consequence of encouraging [their] use,’ the researchers point out. But, in fact, ‘there appears to be little or no benefit in using prohormone nutritional supplements. Therefore [their use] should be discouraged by athletic trainers, coaches, educators, researchers and physicians.’

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006; vol 38, no 8, pp1451-1461

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