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Diet supplement 'andro' raises hormone levels, study finds
NEW YORK -- When master homerun hitter Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals publicly acknowledged taking the dietary supplement androstenedione, its sales among young adults increased fivefold. Now, a new study suggests the pills may cause serious side effects by raising hormone levels.
Available at health-food stores across the United States, androstenedione, commonly called andro, taken at high enough levels can raise male hormones -- testosterone -- and female hormones -- estrogen, according the study, conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the sale of andro.
The study focused on 42 men. A third of them took 300 milligrams of andro a day, a third took 100 milligrams a day and the remainder, a control group, took none. The men who took 300 milligrams had an increase of 34 percent in testosterone levels as well higher estrogen levels. The men who took 100 milligrams had an increase in estrogen levels.
Researchers said increased estrogen levels in men could cause breast enlargement as well as higher risk for heart and pancreas problems. In boys, elevated levels of either estrogen or testosterone may prompt early puberty and premature cessation of bone growth, resulting in an adult height that is shorter than normal.
McGuire, who in 1998 set the seasonal homerun record, said last August that he no longer took andro and had never endorsed it. "I always discouraged children from taking it," he told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Professional baseball allows players to use andro.
Often, athletes and body builders who take supplements like andro believe the chemical will increase strength, stamina and muscle mass through elevation of testosterone. The study did not measure muscle gain.
Dr. William Rosner of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York said people who take andro often see muscle gain, but it may not be the pills that are responsible. "What happens is you get on these pills, and then you get on a (food and exercise) regimen that's much stricter than the regimen you might otherwise have gotten on (without the pills)... and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
The study, reported in the February 9 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, apparently conflicts with findings recounted last June in JAMA from a similar experiment at Iowa State University.
The report on the Iowa study said testosterone levels were not affected by short-term or long-term andro use by men. Researchers in the new study said participants in their study received higher concentrations of andro over shorter periods of time. That accounted for the inconsistency between the two studies, the researchers said.
Both studies found that andro increased female hormones in men. In minute amounts, andro occurs naturally in the human body where it is chemically converted into testosterone and estrogen.
The Iowa research was financed by Experimental and Applied Sciences, Inc. of Golden, Colorado. The company is a manufacturer of andro pills.
The Major League Baseball Players Association and the National Institutes of Health joined Major League Baseball in financially underwriting the Massachusetts study.
CNN Health Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.
Study debunks androstenedione muscle benefits
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