Listen up! In case you've been Tae Bo-ing too much to notice, several US government agencies are attempting to have prohormones (andro) banned from over-the-counter sales. It seems to be only a matter of time; and androstenedione will most likely be the first to go. So while the apple's ripe, here is a myopic run down of the most effective testosterone precursors to pluck from the tree.
And make no mistake; I'm no "armchair physiologist". I have spent a considerable amount of time in the trenches collecting data on andro. To be exact, I've completed six separate university studies on various forms of prohormones, including androstenedione, androstenediol, cyclodextrin-complexed androstenediol, and a very popular androgen blend. So if visions of an andro-induced 30-pound weight gain - or a 400-pound bench press - are dancing in your head, you definitely need the information contained here.
In a nutshell, any andro product containing, primarily, "4" and "diol" somewhere in its name is probably your best purchase bet. For instance, although hopes were high when 4-androstenedione was first introduced to the market, its popularity faded quickly. In fact, anyone who still feels that 4-androstenedione is useful for testosterone boosting or muscle building in men should quit lifting and consider hawking abdominal rollers and cellulite creams. Granted, there may be effects in females (most companies have labels that advise females not to use), and perhaps there are yet-to-be uncovered effects on libido (sex drive). But in young, middle-aged - or older - males, 4-androstenedione is, essentially, worthless for muscle building. There, I said it. Sure, ingestion of 4-androstenedione can raise testosterone levels modestly (about 20-30 percent) at relatively high doses (300 mg or more), but the elevation in estrogens is greater. Like 2-5 times greater!
And, yes, you could use an anti-aromatase to minimize estrogen formation; but why bother? Especially when androstenedione's more potent cousin, 4-androstenediol, is still available. Both experimental and anecdotal evidence supports 4-diol's ability to raise testosterone levels and improve performance. And as long as a sublingual / transbuccal form of 4-diol is used, elevation in estrogens appear to be minimal. Currently, the most thoroughly studied supplement that contains 4-diol is Pinnacle's Androstat Popper.
As far as more expensive 19-nor prohormones go, much less is known about their effects, because they do not convert to testosterone, but, rather, to a weaker, related compound called nor-testosterone (nandrolone). In fact, one recent study showed that subjects who used a 19-nor combination product tested positive for nandrolone after only three days of supplementation. In addition, 19-nor-diol has a great reputation in gyms; especially with women trainers, because it does not promote water retention (unlike 4-diol).
Some friends who have used high doses of 19-nor-diol claim it wrecked their sex drive. But this has not been a universal observation. For all types of prohormones, though, forget swallowing unless you want to waste money and tax your internal organs unnecessarily. The recent development of cyclodextrin complexation, liposomes and bioadhesive tablets make oral administration pale in comparison.
Some companies have even developed nifty prohormone sprays. However, like most forms of andro on the market, hard data on the product's bioavailability in humans is non-existent. Besides, unlike pills, capsules and tablets, spray-on applications are not considered dietary supplements, and therefore aren't protected by the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), and will likely be caught in the cross-hairs when the feds wake up. Admittedly, sprays may have a more favorable pharmacokinetic profile for inducing anabolic gains; however this needs to be demonstrated in product-specific, university research.
Androgen Use In Women
Until recently few scientists have considered the potentially beneficial role that androgens may have in women. However, don't get too excited, girls. This comment applies largely to peri- or postmenopausal women. The production of androstenedione, DHEA and testosterone decreases sharply in some women during this time.
In clinical trials, women who received combined estrogen-androgen therapy noted increases in bone density, energy levels, well being, and libido, over and above those who received estrogen alone. Unfortunately, adverse effects like hair growth and increased cholesterol levels were also noted in some women. These effects, however, were both dose-dependent (the more androgens the women took the worse the side effects) and related to the mode of administration (swallowing being the worst; injections and implanted pellets being the best).
Would these same positive (and negative) effects occur from prohormone administration? No one knows. But it is not out of the realm of possibilities. While I certainly do not recommend prohormone use in pre-menopausal women, let's face it; it's already happening. And many women love the effects observed with relatively low doses.
Wrapping It Up
The new guy on the block is 1-androstenedione (1-AD). In contrast to 4-androstene dione, which has a double bond in position four of the molecule and converts to regular testosterone, 1-AD has it at position one and converts to a slightly different type of testosterone. As with most types of andro on the market, however, there is unfortunately no human data yet on 1-AD.
But if smart, the company that released it will sponsor some research - quick - to document its potential anabolic / ergogenic effects. Could 1-AD be the granddaddy of all prohormones? Time will tell.
For current and future prohormone dabblers, consider the following:
- Teens and trainees with less than several years of experience have absolutely no reason to use prohormones. Whether you like hearing it our not, the gains from proper training and diet will overshadow those from any legal supplement. Period.
- Before considering the use of prohormones, educate yourself. Read about androgens, preferably from peer-reviewed scientific sources like textbooks and research articles. When hard data are unavailable, or the writing is over your head, be wary of summaries by self-proclaimed experts or "gurus". Consult with individuals who have both academic and practical experience in physiology, supplementation and training. In other words, look for guys / gals who can "talk the talk" and "walk the walk".
- Avoid swallowing prohormones. The extra cost of cyclodextrin complexation and other legitimate forms of administration is well worth it.
- Start with low dosages to discover your tolerance to side effects. Many women trainees start with 50-100 mg per day, while men use 100-200 mg per day. (If you are using a cyclodextrin complexed product divide these values by a factor of two).
- Use prohormones for short periods of time (2-4 weeks), and then double the "off" time (4-8 weeks). Some athletes use tribulus terrestris during these off periods to coax their body's testosterone production back to normal. Typical dosages are 750-1500 mg per day. However, be sure to look for a product that contains protodioscin, the most anabolic of all saponins.
- Have routine blood work done to determine your internal sensitivity to side effects (i.e. potential changes in cholesterol levels and liver function).
- Although mild acne is no cause for concern (a sign that your body is producing more T), if you notice other more serious side effects, discontinue use immediately.
- If minimizing side effects is an absolute must, stick with lower dosages of 4-diol and 19-nor-diol compounds. Based on data currently available, these appear to cause fewer side effects.
- If you are a competitive athlete, don't use prohormones at all! Androstenedione and its cousins - including the 19-nors - are banned by most athletic organizations. Ignorance will not get you off the hook.
Don't expect miracles. Andro-induced gains in strength and size vary from person to person, but are typically modest. Put another way, even if you have every aspect of your program dialed in (training, diet, rest, and supplementation), the addition of a quality prohormone supplement will not have you benching 300 pounds if you currently struggle under 225.
There you have it, a quick but accurate treatise on prohormones. Make no mistake. Prohormones are steroids, although in comparison to classic (synthetic) anabolic / androgenic steroids, their effects are much, much weaker. And despite the media hype, no one is gaining 30 pounds of lean mass, or hitting 70 home runs a year, just by using andro.
As with any supplement, there are risks and benefits that should be carefully weighed prior to use. But as VM has said a hundred times: An informed decision is always better than an ignorant one. Now where is my bottle of Andro?
- Casaburi, R., T. Storer and S. Bhasin (1996). Androgen Effects on Body Composition and Muscle Performance. In: Pharmacology, Biology, and Clinical Applications of Androgens (Bhasin et al. Eds), Wiley-Liss.
- Colker, C.M., J. Antonio and D. Kalman. The metabolism of orally ingested 19-nor-4-androstene-3, 17-dione and 19-nor-4-androstene-3, 17-diol in healthy, resistance-trained man. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(1): 144-147, 2001.
- Guyton, A.C. (1991). Textbook of Medical Physiology (8th edition). W.B. Saunders Company.
- Marks, D.B., A.D. Marks and C. Smith (1996). Basic Medical Biochemistry. Williams and Wilkins.
- Norman, A.W. and G. Litwack (1987). Hormones. Academic Press, Inc.
- Seeley, R.R., T.D. Stephens and P. Tate (1998). Anatomy and Physiology (4th edition). WCB McGraw-Hill.