Andro Not the Fountain of Youth


A new study in the Nov. 13 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine challenges the theory that taking androstenedione pills can delay muscle loss due to aging.

When men reach their 30s, they usually begin to lose the muscle strength and mass they enjoyed during their 20s — just one of the signs of growing older. This decline in muscle capacity is accompanied by decreased blood level of the male hormone testosterone. Some dietary supplement manufacturers suggest that it may be possible to delay the aging process and its effects on muscle capacity by preventing or slowing the normal decline in testosterone concentrations.

In testosterone-deficient young men, replacement therapy has been shown to restore many of the functions that are also lost during natural aging. One attempt to maintain the testosterone levels of youth past age 30 has been through androstenedione and androstenediol pills. These pills contain the chemical precursors from which our bodies make testosterone. It was hoped that increased testosterone

precursors will stimulate the body to manufacture more testosterone. These dietary supplements are easily obtained without prescriptions in health-food stores and pharmacies.

A research team led by C.E. Broeder, Ph.D., at West Tennessee State University, examined the effects of dietary supplements containing androstenedione on muscle strength. The results suggest that such testosterone precursors do not improve muscle performance. The study tested the effects of manufacturer-suggested doses of both androstenedione and androstenediol on 50 men aged 35 to 65.

Eighteen men received no supplement, 17 received androstenediol and 15 received androstenedione in a controlled study. The participants engaged in a rigorous 12-week weight-training program. Sex hormone profiles, body composition, muscular strength and blood lipid (fat) profiles were the parameters used

to assess the supplements’ effects. The study revealed no significant improvement in muscle performance, while changes in both hormone and blood lipid concentrations were cause for concern.

While muscle strength and mass increased in all test subjects, the improvement was nearly equal for those who did and did not receive supplements. Thus, the improvement resulted from the training program and not the androstenedione. Likewise, no significant differences between the groups were noted in the time needed to perform the workout.

The authors found that “the main effect of androstenedione supplementation ? is not an enhancement of testosterone production.” In fact, they report that taking androstenedione supplements causes the body to slow testosterone synthesis. The body actually converts the remaining androstenedione and androstenediol into estrogen, the female sex hormone, resulting in significantly elevated estrogen levels.

Androstenedione supplementation also caused an increase in the ratio of low density lipoproteins (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) to HDL or high density lipoproteins (the “good” cholesterol). A higher LDL to HDL ratio indicates an increased risk for coronary heart disease. The authors recommend against unmonitored use of these oral testosterone precursors because their study found insignificant benefit and potentially increased health risk resulting from androstenedione and androstenediol. They also urge those who choose to take these supplements to “monitor their serum hormone levels and blood lipid profiles.”

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