Androstenedione is a hormone produced naturally in the body by the adrenal glands, the ovaries (in women), and the testicles (in men). The body first manufactures DHEA, then turns DHEA into androstenedione, and finally transforms androstenedione into testosterone, the principal male sex hormone. Androstenedione is also transformed into estrogen.
Androstenedione is widely used by athletes who believe that it can build muscle and increase strength. However, there is no evidence that it works. Furthermore, androstenedione supplements may cause positive urine tests for illegal steroid use, due to the common presence of a contaminant (19-norandrostenedione).1
Androstenedione is not an essential nutrient—your body manufactures it from scratch. It is found in meat and in some plants, but to get a therapeutic dosage, you will need to take supplements.
The typical recommended dose of androstenedione is 100 mg 2 times daily with food.
Androstenedione is said to enhance athletic performance and strength by increasing testosterone production, thereby building muscle. However, in double-blind studies, when androstenedione was given to men, it did not alter total testosterone levels, nor improve sports performance, strength, or lean body mass.2–7 It did, however, increase estrogen levels, an effect that would not be considered favorable. Curiously, some evidence suggests that androstenedione does raise testosterone levels levels in women; again, this is not likely to produce favorable results, and it could cause harm (see Safety Issues).8,11 The most consistent effect of androstenedione is to increase estrogen levels.
There are concerns that androstenedione, like related hormones, might increase the risk of liver cancer and heart disease. In support of this last consideration, there is some evidence that androstenedione can adversely affect cholesterol levels.9 In addition, because androstenedione may raise testosterone levels in women, it could cause women to develop facial hair and other male-pattern appearance changes.8,11
According to one case report, use of androstenedione was associated with loss of libido and decreased sperm count in a 29 year old bodybuilder.12 While a single case report does not prove cause-and-effect, androstenedione's apparent ability to raise estrogen levels in men would be consistent with these symptoms.
Another case report suggests an additional potential complication with the use of androstenedione.10 A man who was using androstenedione to improve his physique experienced priapism (painful continuous erection) for over 30 hours, requiring a visit to the emergency room. Previously, also while using androstenedione, he had experienced an episode lasting 2 to 3 hours that spontaneously resolved itself. It isn't certain that androstenedione was the cause, but this appears to be the most likely possibility.
1. Catlin DH, Leder BZ, Ahrens B, et al. Trace contamination of over-the-counter androstenedione and positive urine test results for a nandrolone metabolite. JAMA. 2000;284:2618–2621.
2. Leder BZ, Longcope C, Catlin DH, et al. Oral androstenedione administration and serum testosterone concentrations in young men. JAMA. 2000;283:779–782.
3. King DS, Sharp RL, Vukovich MD, et al. Effect of oral androstenedione on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1999;281:2020–2028.
4. Ballantyne CS, Phillips SM, MacDonald JR, et al. The acute effects of androstenedione supplementation in healthy young males. Can J Appl Physiol. 2000;25:68–78.
5. Wallace MB, Lim J, Cutler A, et al.Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone vs androstenedione supplementation in men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31:1788–1792.
6. Brown GA, Vukovich MD, Martini ER, et al. Endocrine responses to chronic androstenedione intake in 30- to 56-year-old men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000;85:4074–4080.
7. Broeder CE, Quindry J, Brittingham K, et al. The andro project: physiological and hormonal influences of androstenedione supplementation in men 35 to 65 years old participating in a high-intensity resistance training program. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:3093–3104.
8. Leder BZ, Leblanc KM, Longcope C, et al. Effects of oral androstenedione administration on serum testosterone and estradiol levels in postmenopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002;87:5449–5454.
9. Broeder CE, Quindry J, Brittingham K, et al. The andro project: physiological and hormonal influences of androstenedione supplementation in men 35 to 65 years old participating in a high-intensity resistance training program. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:3093–3104.
10. Kachhi PN, Henderson SO. Priapism after androstenedione intake for athletic performance enhancement. Ann Emerg Med. 2000;35:391–393.
11. Kicman AT, Bassindale T, Cowan DA, et al. Effect of androstenedione ingestion on plasma testosterone in young women; a dietary supplement with potential health risks. Clin Chem. 2003;49:167–169.
12. Ritter RH, Cryar AK, Hermans MR et al. Oral androstenedione-induced impotence and severe oligospermia. Fertil Steril. 2005;84:217.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015