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'Andro' supplement off limits in new year

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 04, 2005) -- Airmen who take androstenedione to increase muscle mass will soon have to ditch the supplement and just do extra repetitions at the gym.

Under a new law that takes effect Jan. 20, the prohormone androstenedione will be classified as a Schedule III controlled substance. Schedule III substances are those defined by the government as having a potential for abuse. The drug, commonly called "andro," is used by bodybuilders to help build mass, said Col. (Dr.) Vincent F. Carr, the Air Force's chief consultant for internal medicine services.

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“Andro includes a number of compounds which altogether are a precursor to the male hormone testosterone," Dr. Carr said. "Folks take this to bulk up their muscles and increase their ability to weight lift and to gain endurance for their exercise programs."

Other drugs listed as Schedule III substances include the anesthetic ketamine, called "Special K" by the club-goers who use it; testosterone, and forms of codeine and morphine.

Once ingested, Dr. Carr said, androstenedione is converted to testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for developing such male characteristics as muscle size and body hair. For androstenedione to create muscle mass, a user must take it in an amount that also causes side effects that are damaging to his or her health.

"Part of the problem is that if you take large amounts of androstenedione over a long period of time, you have the potential to develop liver disease, liver failure, heart disease, kidney disease and an acceleration of hardening of the arteries," Dr. Carr said. "For ladies, it may block some of the female hormones, so they may experience symptoms such as male-pattern baldness."

Because androstenedione creates artificial levels of testosterone in the body, natural production of the hormone can be reduced. Slowing the normal production of testosterone also affects a user's body.

"A male may find that because he doesn't have normal testosterone production, his testicles get smaller," Dr. Carr said.

Use of androstenedione is also known to reduce sperm count in men and to reduce breast size in women. The drug may also have psychological effects.

"One of the biggest problems that gets users into trouble is that aggressive behavior manifests itself," Dr. Carr said. "They get into fights, and that could have a major effect on the work environment."

Androstenedione is found in many bodybuilding supplements that are available in nutrition and fitness stores. But Lt. Col. Ronald L. Blakely, the staff food and drug safety officer for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said the products are no longer available in AAFES stores.

"Due to health concerns, the four dietary supplements that contained androstenedione … were phased out by December 2002," Colonel Blakely said. "AAFES' direct store operations never offered nor-androstenedione supplements, also known as ‘nor-andro’ supplements."

Colonel Blakely also said that General Nutrition Center concessions no longer sell "andro" or "nor-andro" products.

On Jan. 20, androstenedione may no longer be legally purchased. It will also be illegal to use the prohormone, even if it was purchased before then. Use, possession, or distribution of androstenedione after Jan. 20 will be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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