In 1998, St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa waged a home run derby the likes of which had not been seen since the Yankees duo of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris went ballistic in 1961. During the media frenzy surrounding the competition, a reporter supposedly spotted a container of androstenedione in McGwire's gym bag. Before you could say "going, going, gone," the sporting world learned about "andro," which touched off a national debate while at the same time sending sales of the stuff into the stratosphere.
While the supplement isn't prohibited by Major League Baseball, it is on the banned list for Olympic athletes. Some people rushed to state that ingesting it explained why the 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound slugger was not only hitting more homers than anyone in baseball history, but also why they vanished into the distance like a golf ball driven by Tiger Woods. (That, of course, didn't explain why Sammy Sosa, a smaller player not on andro, was hitting them almost as often and as hard.)
Here's what we now know. Androstenedione is a steroid that occurs naturally in the body. Much like DHEA, it is another precursor of the hormone testosterone; taking it creates a small increase in testosterone levels. However, according to the Endocrine Society, an organization that does extensive research on hormones, there isn't any conclusive proof that andro improves athletic performance. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that taking andro leads to increased breast size in men and some studies suggest that taking andro could increase the risk of developing certain cancers and in reducing testicular size in men.
In the end, we just don't know if it works, and there are legitimate reasons to stay away from it, even if you'd like to challenge "Big Mac" for a home run title.
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