New Regulations for “Body Building” Supplements
Two United States congressmen recently introduced a bill that would ban over-the-counter sales of so-called steroid precursors, which are claimed to build muscles and enhance physical performance. According to a report from Reuters Health, this bill would reclassify androstenedione and androstenediol—which are currently sold as dietary supplements—as controlled substances, making them available only with a doctor's prescription. These compounds, collectively known as “andro,” have become popular among body builders and teenagers, particularly since baseball star Mark McGwire revealed he had taken andro during the season in which he hit 70 home runs.
Steroid precursors are converted by the body into testosterone, a naturally occurring muscle-building hormone (anabolic steroid). Testosterone deficiency, which sometimes occurs in elderly men or in association with certain diseases, can lead to muscle wasting, loss of bone mass, decreased libido, and depression. Testosterone deficiency also occurs in women (particularly those who have had their ovaries removed), and may cause symptoms similar to those seen in men. The problems that result from testosterone deficiency can be prevented or reversed by testosterone supplementation, which is typically prescribed by a doctor.
Testosterone can also cause significant side effects, particularly if taken by someone whose levels are not low, such as teenagers and young adults. Adverse effects of this hormone include excessive hair growth, aggressive behavior, acne, and sludging of the blood, which can be severe enough to cause a stroke. Although the adverse effects of steroid precursors have not been as well studied as those of testosterone, neither has their safety been adequately demonstrated. Furthermore, there is evidence that andro can be converted in the body into estrogen, possibly causing breast enlargement in males.
Although steroid use is banned in professional football and basketball and among Olympic athletes, there have been allegations that such compounds are being widely used by Major League baseball players. Concerns have been raised that the use of steroids by professional athletes sends the wrong message to children: that taking drugs is a legitimate, or even desirable, way to improve athletic performance. Professional athletes have a large influence on children, and reports indicate that as many as one in eight high school boys has used steroid precursors or anabolic steroids.
Another supplement that has been touted as a muscle builder is chromium (in the form of chromium picolinate). Chromium is an essential trace mineral that enhances the action of insulin in the body. As insulin is an anabolic hormone, it is possible that chromium deficiency would reduce a person's capacity to build muscle. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence that people who are not deficient in chromium can put on muscle by taking a chromium supplement. Chromium is not a steroid precursor and is not a subject of the new proposed legislation.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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