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Health & Exercise Forum

Prohormone Supplements: Best to Say "No" to "Andro"

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May 3, 2010

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumLast month, I wrote a column on the Creatine, an unproven performance enhancement supplement, in response to a mother’s concerns for her son’s health and safety. Many of you wrote emails and asked for more information regarding other popular supplements used by athletes such as prohormone, also known as “andro.” Please find this column satisfactory.

The controversy over the use of prohormone nutritional supplementation in humans (andro) has continued since the investigations of popular athletes such as: Floyd Landis, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and others. As a result, many young athletes and their parents, are confused and vulnerable regarding the use of these products in hope of improving performance. A recent study in the American College of Sports Medicine found, while these supplements are widely marketed, the scientific data supporting the effectiveness is lacking. Dr. Gregory Borowski, a local endocrinologist assisted me in the research for this column. He agrees with this study and shares the concern for supplement users due to the lack of scientific data

Prohormone nutritional supplements, also known as “andro,” consist of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione, and androstenediol. DHEA is a naturally occurring hormone in the body produced by the adrenal gland.

Marketing professionals purport that these supplements are converted to testosterone and improve the response to weight training. Furthermore, they promise improved athletic performance. In 1998, following the media attention on then home run king, Mark McGwire, sales of “andro” increased at a staggering rate.

Research published in Pediatrics, has also shown that the media, sports figures, peer pressure and coach recommendation have had a major influence on the use of supplements in teens. For example, the study found that girls who expressed a desire to look like beautiful women in movies and magazines were more than twice as likely as their peers to use supplements at least weekly to improve muscle mass or definition. Boys who read men’s heath, fitness or fashion magazines were also more than two times as likely. Weight lifting and football, more than any other activity or sport, were linked to the increase use of supplements such as creatine, amino acids, DHEA, growth hormone and steroids.

Unfortunately, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 did not classify androstenedione type products as anabolic steroids. Therefore, these products could be legally purchased as dietary supplements. Fortunately, The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 amended the 1990 act to include any drug or hormonal substance, chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone. This law now included androstenedione with other anabolic steroids and required a prescription to purchase these products.

Potential Health Risks of Prohormone

  • Prostate Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Hypertrophy of Aggressive Center of Brain
  • Premature Closure of Growth Plates
  • Reproductive Dysfunction

Manufacturers Purported Benefits of Prohormone

(not validated by scientific research)

  • Increased Muscle Size
  • Increased Muscle Strength
  • Increased Muscle Power
  • Increased Muscle Endurance
  • Improved Athletic Performance through speed, strength & endurance

American College of Sports Medicine Review of Research

  • No greater improvement in muscle size or strength when compared to strength training alone
  • Can cause drug test failure
  • May have positive effects on lupus and HIV symptoms
  • May have a link to heart disease – studies show both positive and negative effects

In summary, a thorough review of the literature shows that there is no benefit in using prohormone nutritional supplements. Furthermore, since 2004, these supplements cannot be purchased without a physician prescription and have many more potential risks than benefits. Coaches, athletic trainers, educators, parents, nurses and physicians should actively discourage the use of these products.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of  Scranton, PT Dept.