Prohormones are substances that are predecessors to hormones. Steroids are organic compounds that contain a specific arrangement of four rings that are connected to each other. Anabolic steroids are those which act like testosterone to increase protein synthesis within cells, resulting in build up of cellular tissue, particularly in muscles. Prohormones can be described as one or a couple of molecules behind a proper hormone. These convert to steroids when they are metabolized by our bodies.
Since the last couple of decades, prohormones have become quite popular among sports persons and body builders and have gained increasing acceptance among non medical anabolic steroid users, as substances that convert to active hormones.
Steroids and sports have gone hand in hand since time immemorial! Steroids have been used by sports persons to improve their performance and increase their stamina, facing dire physical and legal consequences many a time. Considering the legal disapproval of steroids used by athletes, prohormones have come up as alternatives which offer the benefits of anabolic steroids without the risks of legal hassle. This is where prohormones seem to have an edge in the perennial prohormones vs steroids conflict, though the biological superiority of either one over the other is still debated.
Side effects of prohormones are the same as those of steroids and it completely depends upon the user as to what side effect(s) he experiences. Prohormones are majorly used to increase muscle mass or decrease body fat levels and are chiefly used by athletes who wish to enhance strength, size, endurance, reduce recovery time and gain lean body mass.
However, nowadays, body builders are also showing inclination towards this, as the results achieved are similar to those achieved by the intake of anabolic steroids, though, more gradual. These days, life extension groups are actively using prohormones as an alternative to prescription drugs for hormone replacement therapies.
How do Prohormones Work?
Prohormones, that work as anabolic steroids, can be considered as the building blocks which the body uses to produce the actual anabolic steroids. Prohormones produce these steroids in conjunction with particular body enzymes. When prohormones are taken, these get filtered through the liver and during this process they come into contact with liver enzymes. This converts the prohormones into steroids. Since the conversion of prohormones into steroids is done by the body internally, taking prohormones is absolutely legal, unlike taking steroids directly. Body builders usually follow alternating with-and-without prohormone cycles to moderate their effects on the muscle mass.
Popular Prohormones Available in Market
Around 5 common prohormones, which are pretty popular among health-freaks and body builders, are available in the market. These are:
- 4-androstenedione: It converts to testosterone with a conversion rate of about 5.6%. Meaning, of the amount which is taken, 5.6% is converted into testosterone. It has a relatively high rate of aromatization to estrogen and the side effects include gynecomastia, male pattern baldness, acne and enlarged prostate.
- 4-androstenediol: It converts to testosterone with a conversion rate of 15.76%. This is thrice the conversion rate of androstenedione and is brought about by the use of a different enzymatic pathway. It does not directly convert to estrogen, although some secondary aromatization may be brought about by metabolism. It produces less androgenic side effects than androstenedione as it does not metabolize into dihydrotestosterone (a 5-alpha reduced form of testosterone assumed to be 700% more anabolic and 200% more androgenic) or DHT.
- 19-norandrostenedione: It gets converted to nortestosterone and is slightly less anabolic than testosterone. It has a low rate of conversion to estrogen and, hence, causes lower androgenic side effects.
- 19-norandrostenediol: This converts into nortestosterone and works the same as norandrostenedione but with a higher conversion rate.
- 1-androstenediol: It converts to 1-Dihydrotestosterone at a very high conversion rate. It doesn't aromatize to estrogen either directly or via any of its metabolic products. However, DHT being more androgenic, the side effects may range from male pattern baldness, and testicular shrinkage to acne and benign prostate hypertrophy.
As discussed above, since the side effects of prohormones used for increasing muscle mass and for enhancing sports and athletic performance are similar to the anabolic steroids, care should be taken when taking them. After all, these are external substances that are artificially taken. Also, there is the risk of dependency. Their popularity is mainly due to the reason that they are sold legally and not because they are safer substitutes to steroids; at least, it has not been proved yet. The key is to strike a balance between diet, exercise and performance enhancing supplements to sculpt an enviable physique or pursue a successful athletic career.