Every once in a while I get asked about the form of supplements known as prohormones. I’ll share what I believe to be an informed opinion (along with some personal stories for your amusement), but keep in mind I’m not a doctor or pharmacist.
The History of Prohormones
Some of you may know that I
spent wasted a lot of money on supplements in the 90’s. That era was in many ways the the “wild west” of supplement industry.
Prohormones came on the scene the mid-90’s, not long after anabolic steroids had been reclassified as schedule 3 controlled substances (since big biceps are apparently as dangerous as heroine).1 They were still legal because they were supposed to be precursors to anabolic hormones–converting to testosterone only after passing through the liver.
This was also around the time of the internet boom, so all kinds of stuff was being sold online. I remember GHB, the “date rape drug,” being marketed since it induced a deep sleep which would theoretically help with growth hormone production.
Androstenedione was the first prohormone to be heavily marketed (and given the nickname “andro”). This one was made famous when a sports reporter “accidentally” spotted a bottle in Mark MgGwire’s locker–some believe he put it there to draw attention away from allegations of steroid use (which he denied for years).
I was a naive 20-something who had been training for over a decade. I was eager to find an edge to make me bigger and stronger (ironic, since I considered myself a “natural” trainee). I tried several prohormone formulas: androstendione, 4-AD, 1-AD, etc. I even tried some unusual administration routes, like spraying them on my skin (which was supposedly superior to taking them orally), and even spraying them up my nose (which supposedly helped with focus and aggression, since that’s a more direct route to the brain). Did I mention what a naive consumer I was? I can’t help but laugh thinking back to some of the moronic things I tried.
I used prohormones on and off from the mid to late 90’s, but I can’t say they made any difference whatsoever. If I had it all to do over I would have simply enjoyed the gains that come from being in the peak years of my natural testosterone production (and saved some of my hard-earned cash). My best lifts of that decade came from simply adjusting my training methods—not from supplements of any kind.
At some point I discovered just how unpredictable prohormones were. Androstenedione, for example, was shown to raise the level of certain female hormones–not what I had in mind!2 I had never experienced any feminizing side effects, but the illusion of inducing a legal, side effect free testosterone boost was completely shattered. I never bothered with prohormones again–part of the hard lesson I had learned about trusting the supplement industry. I’m extremely grateful for reaching this conclusion because the worst was yet to come.
The hype regarding prohormones lived on in the 2000’s even after some were banned by the Steroid Control Act of 2004. “New” products came up that were not covered under the current law. I would see brands/names mentioned on bodybuilding forums, complete with testimonies of muscle/strength gains. But I was done–I wasn’t about to potentially tamper with my natural testosterone production based on endorsements in forums.
Prohormones and Toxicity
I have since learned that most of the prohormones were not really new at all–they were originally developed in the 60’s by chemists that were trying to create new steroid formulas. These compounds were abandoned because they were found to be ineffective and/or extremely toxic to the liver. Unscrupulous companies had essentially repackaged toxic waste of the 60’s as muscle builders. Apparently some the formulas that were resurrected in the 2000’s were more toxic than what was sold/used in the 90’s–a few unfortunate users required medical intervention due to liver toxicity.3 The FDA eventually banned these new/old drugs as well.
So here we are, about 20 years after prohormones were first introduced. I don’t know if any “new” versions are out there and I could care less. I’m content to lift, live and just optimize my testosterone levels naturally.
3. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007 Jul;5(7):809-12. Epub 2007 May 16. Hepatotoxicity associated with dietary supplements containing anabolic steroids.