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Androstenedione: The Father of Testosterone


© Ray Sahelian MD

Androstenedione and its close cousins androstenediol, norandrostenedione, and others, are natural steroid hormones found in the body and available over the counter. There are several other steroid hormones available without a prescription, including DHEA and pregnenolone.

Basically, pregnenolone is the grandmother of all the steroid hormones. Pregnenolone is able to convert into DHEA, which in turn converts into Andro (short for androstenedione). The body can then convert Andro into testosterone and estrogens.

Steroid hormones are made mostly in the adrenal glands, testicles (in men), and ovaries (in women), but they can also be made in other parts of the body, including the brain, where they are called neurosteroids. Andro and testosterone are known as androgens, while DHEA is known as a pro-androgen since it converts into androgens.

Since Andro is the precursor to testosterone, there has been speculation that Andro has libido boosting properties. There has also been speculation that Andro is beneficial for muscle building.

Andro and Libido
I could not find any research regarding the role of Andro and sex drive. However, there have been countless studies supporting the role of other androgens, such as testosterone, in increasing sex drive and overall sexual enjoyment.

Androgens are known to enhance sexual thoughts and fantasies as well as enhance mood and well-being. Androgens facilitate the action of nitric oxide in causing genital swelling, and they also enhance the sensation of genital organs such as the clitoris and penis. It is possible that androgens also increase sensation of nipples.

Does Andro Build Muscles?
Some body builders anecdotally report that they notice increased strength on the days they work out when they use androstenedione. A highly publicized study indicates that androstenedione may not live up to its hype. The study published in the June 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association compared 300 mg of androstenedione with a dummy pill in 20 men ages 19 to 29 during an eight-week weightlifting program. Researchers found no difference in strength between the two groups of men.

What About Hormone Replacement?
Since Andro converts into testosterone and estrogens, some doctors use it as a substitute for hormone replacement for women after menopause or for older men. Perhaps low doses used for brief periods of time may be helpful, but no long term research is available to compare the benefits versus the risks.

Mechanism of Action
Since Andro converts into testosterone, it does make sense that it should have sex-boosting properties similar to testosterone. Most studies show Andro raises blood levels of testosterone and estrogens. In addition, Andro very likely enters cells of various organs and tissues in the body and converts to testosterone and estrogens within the cells.

My Experience
I personally have not taken Andro since my skin is very sensitive to androgens, I break out in acne within a few days after taking DHEA or even pregnenolone. However, I have definitely noticed libido-boosting effects from DHEA and pregnenolone.

What My Patients Say
Both male and female patients frequently report to me that they notice a libido-boosting effect from this hormone. Others find that they can ejaculate easier. Occasionally someone will notice the effect within an hour, but more commonly the libido enhancement is noticed the next day or third day of use. Hence, if you expect to be sexually active over the weekend, you could take Andro Thursday and Friday. On the other hand, and I don't know how to explain it, I have had reports from individuals who have noticed a decrease in libido while taking Andro daily for many weeks. A 32 year-old male patient says, "I tried Andro 100 mg a day for 3 weeks while weight training and noticed no positive effects, and if anything my libido appeared to go down."

Cautions and Side Effects
If you plan to take Andro, do so under medical supervision, and take it, at most, only a few days a month.

Most of the short-term side effects are not serious and include acne, mood changes, and irritability. These side effects are minimal on low dosages, particularly if Andro is only taken for two or three days. Acne results from increased sebum production. I am aware of several reports of aggressive behavior by individuals taking Andro.

When Andro is taken for prolonged periods, it can have additional side effects that include thinning of scalp hair, facial hair growth in women, and alterations in menstrual cycles. Blurred vision is another side effect that a few Andro users have experienced. Thinning of scalp hair may occur due to the conversion of Andro into testosterone, which then converts in the hair follicles into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Hair follicles do not like too much DHT. There's actually a hair-growth medicine called finasteride that works by blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Andro can also raise levels of estrogen, something that could potentially lead to enlarged breasts and an increased risk of certain types of cancer if Andro is taken daily for many years. Prostate enlargement could be a concern in older men. I am aware that DHEA, in doses greater than 25 mg, sometimes causes irregular heart rhythms. It is possible that Andro may do the same in susceptible individuals.

A letter to the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine reports an individual who took Andro to improve his physique experienced priapism (painful continuous erection) for over 30 hours after taking the hormone for one week. The priapism required a visit to the emergency room. Priapism is named after Priapus, the Greek god of fertility often shown in sculpture endowed with a large phallus.

Interactions
If you plan to use Andro, note that other steroid hormones, such as DHEA, pregnenolone, and Andro cousins, will have an additive effect if taken at the same time.

Dosage and Availability
Andro is available in health food and vitamin stores in 25, 50 and 100 mg capsules, but is also available in other forms including percutaneous gels, transdermal patches, and chewing gum. A dose of 10 to 50 mg a day for one to four days is usually effective for most people as a sex booster. Some people find a pill taken a couple of hours before sex to be effective.

Summary
The young and those with high levels of androgens in their system are not likely to notice as much of a sex boosting effect from Andro as would middle aged and older individuals. As with any supplement, there will be those who will notice benefits while others only have side effects. It is difficult to predict a person's response to a nutrient, herb, or hormone. Andro seems to be best suited for those who have a low libido or a decrease in genital sensation. Andro can be safely used in low dosages for short periods of time in order to enhance libido, particularly if done so under medical supervision. The dosage may vary between 10 mg to 50 mg a day for one to four days followed by a break for several weeks. Those who are found to be deficient in androgens due to a medical condition or aging, could take Andro or DHEA for prolonged periods as long as they are monitored by a physician.

The sex boosting effects of Andro and DHEA are somewhat similar and either can be used interchangeably.



Ray Sahelian, M.D. is the best selling author of several books including Natural Sex Boosters, Mind Boosters, and The Stevia Cookbook.
Get a free copy of Dr. Sahelian's new book Natural Sex Boosters. It discusses supplements, herbs, and hormones to enhance stamina, sensation, and sexuality for both men and women.
 
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