Androstenedione (andro-STEEN-die-own), a natural hormone, is produced by the human body in the adrenal glands and gonads, and can be found in meats and in certain plants. It is a "precursor" to testosterone--that is, the body converts it into testosterone. For this reason, it has become popularized as a weight training supplement, raising concerns about where to draw the line in the regulation of vitamin and hormone supplementation.

Mark McGwire first brought "Andro" to widespread public attention in 1998 when he admitted to using it, along with creatine monohydrate, to complement his weight training regimen. Andro, the usage of which remains even today still legal in Major League Baseball, is banned from the NFL and NCAA, as well as from Olympic competition--though it is still legal in the NBA and NHL, which cite the fact that it is still an over-the-counter product as justifying their permittance of it.

Shot-putter Randy Barnes is banned for life from Olympic competition, for having transgressed the Olympic ban.

The FDA considers Andro to be more of food product than a drug, allowing it to pass through into the market faster than a drug would be able to. The long-term effects of Andro are still largely unknown, and highly suspect: if it were to fall in line with other, better known means of synthetic hormonal supplementation, or anabolic steroids, its usage would entail a wide-array of horrendous medical problems, including acne, shrunken testicles, impotence, baldness, breast enlargement in males, clitoral growth in females, and more--while augmenting athletic performance and sex drive in the short run.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of the supplement androstenedione's recent reknown is its widespread availability. Mark McGwire was hitting lots of homeruns long before he had ever tampered with Andro or creatine, but that didn't stop each and every one of his 70 homeruns from "pitching" the drugs to the American consumer. And there is little to be found about shrunken testicles on the websites that market it as a safe alternative to anabolic steroids.

Andro is considered a steroid, but not an anabolic steroid. Says Dr A. Scott Connelly, chairman and founder of MET-Rx Engineered Nutrition:

"The actual nice thing about this approach to manipulating your testosterone is you can't exceed your body's maximal ability to convert (androstenedione into testosterone)," he said. "When injecting testosterone with the illicit use of anabolic steroids, you can provide any level of testosterone that you can get into a syringe. ... With this approach (androstenedione), an individual could not exceed the body's natural ability to convert the precursor substance into the end product."
Androstenedione "belongs to a class of compounds which because of their chemical structures are classified as steroid compounds... But, for example, cholesterol is in that category as well. When the layperson hears steroids, they immediately think of some particular substance when they should realize that's just a chemical designation. Androstenedione technically is a steroid but not in the common usage of what that word is, the common usage is anabolic steroids."

Deciding what is and is not permissable in the preparation of athletes for the field of competition is proving itself a formidable challenge in today's day, because of the ethical aspects governing the drawing of the rules. Who is to say that Vitamin C pills aren't an unfair advantage, when one guy takes them and the other doesn't? The sports world is forced to rely on the drawing of the rules only to the exclusion of that which is demonstrably detrimental to the health of the individual taking the substance--and proof, in cases such as these, can come only in the long-term.

From www.betterbodz.com:

Are there any negative side effects to Androstenedione?
There are no known negative side effects to Androstenedione, however, all atheletes should consider the effect rapid testosterone increases have on their personality. Androstenedione will not convert to estrogen(DHEA does) so there are no negative estrogenic side effects possible.

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http://www.betterbodz.com/androstenedione.html
Androstenedione is sometimes sought among pre-operative (and non-op, thanks oakling) female-to-male transsexuals for the same reason it's sought among bodybuilders: it converts to testosterone.

Testosterone, when introduced in sufficient quantity to the female body, causes development of male secondary sex characteristics, including voice change, rearrangement of body fat, increased hair growth, and, of course, easier muscle development. Unfortunately for FTMs, it's only available through prescription, and getting that prescription often involves a lot of therapy and hassle. So some transguys turn to supplements, including androstenedione.

Andro, however, doesn't always produce the desirable effects of testosterone, and often causes some of the more damaging ones. Usually the best that anyone with a female body can achieve is increased muscle mass, growth of the clitoris, increased sex drive, and maybe a little scratchiness of the voice. On the other side of the coin, use of andro can lead to acne and increased risk of heart or liver disease.

Since testosterone itself can also increase these risks, one of the things that an FTM's endocrinologist has to check for before he goes on testosterone is whether he has any heart or liver problems. If use of androstenedione has caused these, he might be denied testosterone, which is a Very Bad Thing.

The general consensus in the FTM community is that using andro, especially in high doses, really isn't worth it. The only real benefit is for muscle mass, and the potential risks outweigh that. So most of us just bend to the system and jump through whatever hoops are required to get a prescription for actual testosterone.

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