Andro-type supplements carry health, drug-test risks

Dear Dr. Burke:

I was wondering if you could give me a bit of advice on the supplement Ando Fuel. I have taken creatine in the past and at present, using it in the gym and the moment before the season starts. I have read a bit of info on andro, but it's all from a bodybuilding/weightlifting angle.

Correct me if I am wrong, but what I have gathered is that andro pumps up your testosterone levels through the roof, and makes for great gains in strength training. What they are saying is that, unlike with creatine, your muscles don't fill up with water.

I am a bit apprehensive to try it for another reason: drug testing. Although I have checked the ingredients, another source informs me, that Andro Fuel synthesizes into nandrolone, a banned steroid.

If you have any info on this, it would be much appreciated.

Worried Racer

Dear Worried Racer:

You might ask: What does taking a supplement such as Andro Fuel have to do with testing positive for a prescription anabolic steroid on the order of nandrolone?

Well, everything, it seems. The problem began when androstenedione (the controversial supplement once used by home run king Mark McGwire) and androstenediol (the first of these "andro" hormones) were released to the market and the scientific community. Studies found that these substances could be converted to the female hormone estrogen in the body, and not testosterone.

In men, high levels of estrogen relative to testosterone have been associated with a variety of abnormalities including heart disease, prostate problems and enlarged breasts in men.

So in response to these potential health problems, the dietary supplement industry came up with the so-called "19-Nor" hormones. These hormone modifications of androstenedione and androstenediol lack a carbon group at position number 19 on the steroid backbone.

Thus, they are at best only distant cousins of testosterone and actually more closely resemble the banned substance nandrolone than anything else. This is due primarily to the fact that nandrolone is also a 19-nor substance. However, unlike the nonprescription 19-nors, nandrolone is only available with a prescription because it is a proven anabolic steroid.

In fact, both 19-norandrostenedione and 19-norandrostenediol (the two popular over-the-counter 19-nor hormones on the market today) so closely resemble nandrolone in structure that they are either identified in the body as nandrolone or actually become nandrolone once in the system. Herein lies the problem for cyclists.

At first glance you might say this is some kind of anabolic breakthrough. After all, an over-the-counter oral nandrolone that you don't need a prescription for has tremendous marketing power. However, if used by the wrong person, the results will be disastrous.

The fact is every professional and Olympic athlete should avoid these supplements because their urine will actually test positive for nandrolone in as little as three days.

This was recently shown in a research project conducted by Carlson Colker, M.D., and presented at the 1999 national meeting of the Experimental Biology Annual Conference. He showed that that these supplements will indeed appear as nandrolone in the body within a matter of days.

So are athletes coming up positive either due to the fact that they are taking a "supplement" or actually taking the banned substance nandrolone? Either way, many athletes are suffering the consequences.

The moral of the story is to stay informed. Read labels and know what you are taking in supplement form. Just because something is sold over the counter, labeled as natural and available without prescription, does not mean it is safe to use. If safety isn't enough of a concern, imagine the infamy of a positive drug test.

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