In 2004 then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson launched a crackdown against companies selling bodybuilding products containing androstenedione or “andro” because of the health risks these products pose to its users.
Back then the ex-HHS Secretary had this to say about the dangers of andro: “Young people, athletes and other consumers should steer clear of andro because there are serious, substantial concern about its safety. Young people should understand that there are no short cuts to a stronger body and that the best way to get faster and stronger is through good diet, nutrition and exercise.”
Other government officials weighed-in on the bad negative effects of andro. Here’s John Walters, then Director of National Drug Control Policy: “Athletics benefit young people’s health and give them a lesson in the value of hard work. Androstenedione and other performance-enhancing drugs undercut these benefits by endangering our children’s healthy development and teaching them that cheating is an acceptable component of pursuing excellence.”
And here’s then Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Mark McClelan’s take on the issue: “While andro products may seem to have short-term benefits, the science shows that these same properties create real and significant health risks. While the products are advertised to athletes, they have the potential to get into the hands of our impressionable youth who may believe these products will help their development.
“Anyone who takes these products in sufficient quantities to build muscle or improve performance is putting himself or herself at risk for serious long-term and potentially irreversible health consequences. There is no proven safe substitute for hard work and training when it comes to improving athletic skill; we will do all we can to protect Americans against companies that seek to profit by trying to convince consumers otherwise.”
But what exactly are the bad andro side effects? Why are these public officials warning against its usage? Is their a basis for their concern or are the concerns overblown?
In an FDA whitepaper on the effects of androstenedione, the following were mentioned as the negative effects of andro usage on children or adolescents:
- disruption of normal sexual development, specifically virilization in girls associated with severe acne, excessive body and facial hair, deepening of the voice, permanent enlargement of the clitoris, disruption of the menstrual cycle, and infertility
- feminization of boys, with breast enlargement and testicular atrophy
- in girls, exposure to excess estrogens may confer long-term increased risk for breast and uterine cancer
- in boys and girls, the combined effects of excessive androgens and estrogens can induce premature puberty, early closure of the growth plates of long bones, resulting in significant compromise of adult stature
The most common and less common adverse health effects of andro include the following:
- liver abnormalities
- lowering of the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio, thus increasing the risk for atherosclerotic disease
- testicular atrophy or shrinkage of testicles
- stunted growth among young adolescent users
- breast enlargement in men
- male pattern baldness in women
- increased facial hair in women
- mood changes
- liver tumors – both benign and malignant
- leukemia / lymphoma
- psychiatric reactions
- among women – increased risk for breast cancer and endometrial cancer, and blood clots
Recently, a Yale University study found that the use of muscle-building supplements with creatine or androstenedione is linked to a significantly higher rate of testicular cancer.
Says one of the study authors Tongzhang Zheng of Yale (now with Brown University): “The observed relationship was strong. If you used at earlier age, you had a higher risk. If you used them longer, you had a higher risk. If you used multiple types, you had a higher risk.”
The study, published in the April 2015 issue of the British Medical Journal, is the first analytical epidemiological study to focus on the relationship between andro-containing supplements and testicular cancer.