Prohormones – steroid precursor supplements
A specific class of nutritional supplements that deserves mention are the prohormone or steroid precursor supplements. In supplement form prohormones are marketed to the bodybuilding community and elsewhere, as the dietary means to improve muscle strength, body composition and general wellbeing, whilst avoiding the legislative restrictions that surround anabolic steroids within UK, European and US law.
Prohormones remained largely unknown to the general public until 1998 when a reporter spotted the supplement, androstenedione, in the locker of home-run slugger Mark McGuire. Suddenly, young athletes everywhere were desperate for this new wonder supplement.
They might seem like an easy shortcut, but think about this common expression: “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” After reading this article you’ll figure it out.
What are prohormones?
The term strictly refers to any post-translational peptide that is cleaved by convertases into a bioactive hormone. The use within commercial dietary supplements refers to androgenic precursors of testosterone which become enzymatically activated after ingestion and colloquially also refers to the non-precursor testosterone analogues, 1-testosterone and prostanzanol.
Prohormones include compounds such as:
Using androstenedione as an example, we see that it is a molecule very similar to testosterone, the principal male sex hormone. The primary difference is that where testosterone has a hydroxyl group (a hydrogen and oxygen bonded together and written as -OH) in a certain position, androstenedione has a keto group (a carbon and oxygen bonded by a double bond – C=0). Simply put, androstenedione is “one step away” from testosterone. This makes it a “precursor” or “pro (coming before) hormone.”
What are the possible benefits of taking steroid precursor supplements (claims made by the manufacturers)?
Varying claims have arisen about the possible benefits of taking steroid precursor supplements. The theory is that prohormone supplements will be converted into testosterone in your body. As you already know, testosterone is a powerful anabolic hormone that increases strength, muscle mass and athletic performance.
Here are the 5 most popular claims made by the manufacturers:
- increased testosterone levels:
- enhanced muscle strength;
- increase in muscle mas;
- improved athletic performance;
- better body composition, etc.
Do steroid precursor supplements really raise testosterone?
Several studies have demonstrated that ingestion of some prohormones, such as androstenedione, raises testosterone levels in humans. However, it is likely that large amounts are required to cause any significant elevation in AAS. These amounts are much larger from those you can find in supplements. Therefore, prohormones can increase testosterone but boost estrogen, the female hormone, at the same time.
Do prohormones really enhance strength, muscle mass or athletic performance?
Despite claims made by the manufacturers, prohormone supplements do not enhance strength, muscle mass or athletic performance when taken in the dosages recommended by the manufacturers.
To date, research using prohormones has failed to demonstrate strength increases in part because the studies have utilized relatively small doses of prohormones (doses that are present in most supplements) and in many cases used untrained subjects.
Relatively high doses (300 mg) may raise testosterone levels, but they still fail to increase strength or muscle mass.
What are the side effects of prohormones?
Little is known about the potential side effects of prohormones like androstenediol. However, if they really do raise testosterone levels (when taken in relatively high doses), their side effects are probably similar to those of anabolic steroids. Therefore, there are many good reasons not to take these supplements. Here are just a few.
- Raised levels of female sex hormones, including estrogen and its related compounds. This could lead to gynecomastia (breast development) and lowered libido in men.
- Lowered levels of high-density lipoprotein or the “good” cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.
- In men short-term side effects may also include lowered sperm count, enlarged prostate gland, shrinking testicles, and balding.
- Women may experience masculinization, increased size of clitoris, growth of facial hair, deepening voice, shrinking breasts, and menstrual irregularities.
- Long-term side effects for both sexes include increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, cancer, and liver damage.
Why prohormones are not classifies as AAS (anabolic-androgenic steroids)?
As already stated, these compounds are classified as nutritional supplements instead of AAS.
According to the Anabolic Steroid Control Act, a substance is considered an AAS if it satisfies four criteria:
- Firstly, It is chemically-related to testosterone;
- Secondly, it is pharmacologically related to testosterone;
- Thirdly, it is not a corticosteroid, progestin, or estrogen;
- Finally, it is demonstrated to be muscle-building;
Because the fourth criterion has not been satisfied, these cannot be classified as AAS.
The verdict: Should I take prohormones?
If you’re still growing, you shouldn’t mess with hormone supplements. Your body is still trying to figure out how it’s going to function. And your endocrine system isn’t complete yet.
If you are an adult, it’s really up to you what you do with your body. Athletes and bodybuilders wrongly believe these substances can increase muscle mass and strengthen much the same way as anabolic steroids. Although no study has proven that any of the prohormones are strength-enhancing, manufacturers make bold claims and it is likely that athletes are buying them and taking higher than recommended quantities in order to gain an effect.
As dietary supplements they are not subject to the same rigorous government testing as are prescription drugs. Anabolic steroids do stimulate muscle growth, but use of these drugs solely for that purpose is illegal. Consequently, many athletes and bodybuilders see prohormones as a way to obtain the same fitness benefits that anabolic steroids confer without violating the law. However, we will emphasize again, attributes credited to androstenediol and related prohormones have not been substantiated by credible research. There is no evidence to back up the manufacturers’ claims.
Do yourself a favor — just stick to regular exercise and a healthy diet.
This means that the distribution, sale and even possession of prohormones (andro) are now punishable crimes. They are now controlled substances. So, be careful if you have some.