by Mike Arnold
For those of you who have been following the sports supplement scene for a while, you may be familiar with a compound known as androsterone. First released about 8-9 years ago, this non-methylated DHEA derivative quickly became one of the best selling products in its class. Marketed as a non-toxic strength gainer with distinct muscle hardening effects and alpha-male promoting characteristics, many found it to be the perfect complement to their OTC regimen. However, pending legal troubles and high production costs soon put an end to this once popular prohormone. Since then we’ve seen a few attempts at reintroduction, but if using consumer reviews as a means of product evaluation, it appears that more recent formulations have fallen short in terms of effectiveness. But what exactly is androsterone and what makes it stand out from the other DHEA-based prohormones on the market?
Technically, androsterone is an active a neurosteroid, but is known mostly for its ability to convert to DHT. In this regard, it is often compared to the more widely used, yet much less costly epiandrosterone, as both convert to DHT through the same two-step conversion process (Androsterone/Epiandrosterone–>Androstanediol/Androstanedione–>DHT). In fact, they are essentially the same compound from a molecular standpoint, differing only by isomer. With such close similarities in terms of both structure and metabolism, many have viewed these compounds as one in the same. However, even a brief a review of the literature quickly debunks such a notion, revealing significant differences between these hormones on multiple levels. One indication of this dissimilarity is found in Vida (an AAS reference guide), which lists androsterone as being a considerably more potent androgen than epiandrosterone; a fact confirmed repeatedly through real-world use.
Still, compared to a steroid like testosterone, androsterone in its unconverted state provides little in the way of anabolic effects (it possesses about 1/7th the androgenic potency of testosterone). Its primary function is that of a neurosteroid and pheromone, while also serving as the base material for conversion to other active metabolites. Having been extensively marketed as a prohormone, most are familiar with this aspect of its function, but much fewer seem to be aware of its ability to alter brain activity. As an inhibitory neurosteroid, androsterone works as a modulator of the GABA receptor, which is responsible for regulating communication between brain cells specific to brain and nervous system functioning. With stress-reducing, rewarding, pro-social, anti-depressant, anxiolytic, analgesic, neuroprotective, and pro-sexual effects, the GABA receptor’s ability to influence mood and overall wellbeing is well documented. Given androsterone’s pronounced effect in this area, one should not be surprised to learn that this aspect of its character plays a central role in shaping the overall “feel” of the drug—one which, according to user reviews, is largely appreciated and preferable to that of many other prohormones.
By viewing androsterone as the sum total of all its metabolites in the conversion chain, rather than a singular hormone with a limited scope of action, we are better able to comprehend its overall character and potential physiological effects. Even a steroid like testosterone, although rarely viewed as a prohormone by those who administer AAS for purposes of performance enhancement, must be evaluated in the same way, as its predisposition for conversion to DHT and estrogen enables it to have a much broader range of effects in the body than testosterone alone. While this is generally understood and accounted for by the majority of testosterone users, the same can’t be said for compounds marketed specifically as prohormones, despite the fact that they frequently display activity at all points in the conversion chain.
Furthermore, androsterone’s role as a neurosteroid and pheromone has not been fully elucidated, leaving us with only a partial understanding of its effects on both the host and those who come in contact with it via pheromone transmission. Muddying up the waters a little more is the fact that it can convert back and forth between DHT and androsterone, making it impossible to determine with any accuracy its conversion rate to DHT, or any intermediary metabolite for that matter. This lack of a pre-determined endpoint is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it does make it difficult to tell exactly how much of its beneficial effects are attributable to each hormone. None the less, androsterone has been shown to provide DHT-like effects, so instead of focusing on what we don’t know, let’s look at what we do know.
As a 5a-reduced metabolite, neither androsterone, nor any of its metabolites are capable of converting to estrogen, making the use of an aromatase inhibitor wholly unnecessary and even counterproductive (at least while on-cycle). Overall, side effects appear to be pretty mild. Without the ability to aromatize and being unable to bind to the estrogen receptor, estrogenic side effects are non-existent. In terms of androgenic sides, they are also relatively mild, especially in comparison to more potent androgens like trenbolone or testosterone. Obviously, DHT itself is a potent androgen, so any elevation in DHT levels will increase the likelihood of experiencing androgenic side effects such as acne, hair loss, etc. However, anecdotal reports reveal that this isn’t an issue for the majority of users, despite the presence of DHT-like effects on the user’s musculature, strength levels, and mental state. A likely explanation for this disparity is that androsterone derives a substantial portion of its effects from both the parent compound and intermediary metabolites, rather than DHT alone.
One of the most popular reasons to use androsterone is to help off-set the deleterious effects that many OTC cycles can have on mood and functioning. Without testosterone as part of one’s cycle, endogenous testosterone production plummets, leaving the user with deficient DHT levels and a bevy of potential side effects, including loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, and lethargy. Androsterone can eliminate this negative aspect of OTC steroid use by helping to normalize DHT concentrations in the bloodstream. Although DHT has gotten a bad rap in some circles due to its association with hair loss (genetically determined) and benign prostatic hyperplasia, the reality is that DHT is essential for optimal functioning and good health. It is particularly valuable to bodybuilders/strength athletes, as it initiates a plethora of beneficial effects on both the mind and body.
One of these is fat loss. With clinical research demonstrating the ability of DHT to increase the production of epinephrine and cyclic amp, fat loss is accelerated through both an increase in lipolysis and the conversion of TSH to T4. DHT also antagonizes estrogen, thereby mitigating estrogen-induced side effects like gynecomastia, water retention, and female fat pattern distribution in those using aromatizable drugs. This promotes a hard, dry appearance, particularly in those with sufficiently low bodyfat. Another mechanism by which DHT works to enhance athletic performance is through strength enhancement, which it accomplishes by improving neurological efficiency. When it comes to gaining a mental edge, few steroids can hold a candle to DHT. Through alterations to our neurochemistry, DHT is able to improve cognition, motivation, self-confidence, energy, aggression, focus, and even elevate our mood.
In terms of HPTA suppression, androsterone is generally mild, although when administered at higher doses a short PCT may be required. It is interesting to note that androsterone been shown to improve the lipid profile, with clinical trials revealing a reduction in cholesterol levels in test subjects. As you can see, androsterone is a complex hormone with a variety of beneficial effects generated through multiple different pathways, many of which are directly applicable to the goals of a bodybuilder/athlete. For those of you who are already using illegal AAS, you will find little need for prohormones of this nature, simply because their effects can be replicated with greater potency when using more traditional drugs. However, for those of you who have chosen to abstain from controlled substances, androsterone makes a solid stacker with more hypertrophic OTC prohormones.