What Are Prohormones?
Prohormones are the chemical precursors of hormones. You can think of them as the building blocks from which hormones are made. Every hormone has its corresponding prohormone: pro-insulin, pro-thyroxine, etc. In the context of sports, we are generally talking about the prohormones for testosterone, the male sex hormone associated with the development of muscular strength and muscle mass.
As anabolic steroids were banned in the 1970’s and 1980’s, attention began to move upstream on the metabolic path to the prohormones from which testosterone is produced, since those were not included in the legislation to criminalize the sale and possession of artificial testosterone. However, because prohormones alter the natural balance of sex hormones in the body, they are associated with many of the same side effects of anabolic steroids and thus require similar cycling protocols to protect the user from long-term harm, including lowered natural testosterone levels and even liver damage.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the prohormones what were being sold in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Some proved they did not help increase muscle mass.
As athletic sanctioning bodies and national governments became aware of interest in prohormones for increasing athletic performance, they have come under many of the same bans as anabolic steroids themselves. However, possessing and dealing in prohormones is often regarded as a lesser offense, and the laws against them provide less harsh penalties than are the case for traditional anabolic steroids. Even so, legal trouble can mess up your life and ruin any hopes of an athletic career.
In 2014 Congress enacted the Designer Steroid Act, which made essentially made all prohormones illegal to sell.
After congress passed this act, dietary supplement manufacturers, most of out of China, started to import pro-prohormones. These all coming from DHEA, which is a legal dietary supplement. Therefore we are not talking about prohormones for sale on the market, we are talking about pre prohormones.
Identifying prohormones is complicated by the practice of many manufacturers of changing names constantly in an effort to keep them under the prohibitionists’ radar. As a particular prohormone becomes increasingly popular, it becomes more likely that it will be the subject of legislation against it, and to be pulled from the market. Some sellers will resort to various cutesy tricks such as substituting numbers for letters, both to look cooler by association with “leet” jargon and to evade spamtraps and other systems based on character recognition when advertising by e-mail. However, this can also be a red flag that this seller is moving out of the gray area of conditional legality and into the black market of materials that are outright illegal, with all the perils both legal and medical.
However, prohormones for athletic performance fall into a few major types. They can be categorized by chemical composition, the metabolic pathways by which they convert to testosterone in the body, and the effects they have.
Types of Prohormones
The first are the androsterones, these are the illegal ones, including 1-andro and 4-andro prohormones, which are directly converted into testosterone by the body. However, because of the obvious nature of the chemical pathway to testosterone production, they have been the first to fall under ban by both legislation and athletic sanctioning bodies.
The next are the DHEA variants, some of these are legal and being sold today, including 1,4-DHEA, 5-DHEA and 7-Keto-DHEA (also known as 7-Hydroxy-DHEA). These convert into DHEA, which is one of the most fundamental prohormones of the body, producing not only most of the major sex hormones, but also hormones that work on as many as 150 different metabolic pathways. In addition to helping the body produce more testosterone, DHEA prohormones help to reduce cortisol, a hormone involved in breaking down tissue. Thus these prohormones help with joint repair and muscle mass maintenance.
Another important prohormone is 5aOHP, an anabolic progestin that converts to stanolone in the body. It helps increase muscle density, which creates a more hardened appearance. It is most frequently used by bodybuilders, but it may also be of interest for athletes wishing to look more impressive as well as to build actual strength.
1,4-OHP is a legal precursor to Equipoise, which helps with recovery and joint repair. It is often used when doing the sorts of workouts that put heavy strains on the joints.
6-Keto-Progesterone is one of the newest prohormones and its function in the body is not fully understood. It doesn’t quite fall into any of the normal categories of sex-hormone precursors, but it is known to give users sufficient muscle growth and mass gain that it is considered worth the risks inherent in using something that is still a considerable unknown.
In addition to the various synthetic prohormones, there are a number of botanical prohormones that are receiving considerable interest, particularly as more and more of the popular synthetic prohormones attract the attention of the prohibitionists. Botanical prohormones are biological substances occurring naturally in plants, some of which are similar enough to the human prohormones that the body is able to convert them into the appropriate hormones. The botanicals of most interest in the athletic community are the phytosterols, many of which are touted as helping to produce testosterone.
Botanicals have several perceived advantages over synthetic prohormones. First, because they are derived from natural sources rather than synthesized in the laboratory, they are often perceived as less harsh, and thus safer than synthetics. Second, in many jurisdictions they can be marketed as herbal dietary supplements rather than drugs, and thus fall under a different set of safety regulations. As a result, they have been less likely to attract the attention of prohibitionists, and thus remain legal.
However, there is little scientific evidence that phytosterols are all that useful as a prohormone for human consumption. Although a number of herbs, including fenugreek, tongkat ali, and even extract of oats have been touted for their supposed ability to increase virility and athletic performance, none of them have ever shown measurable effects upon testosterone levels in double-blind scientific tests.
There is one exception: the brassinosteroids, a family of chemical compounds found in the pollen of rapeseed (canola). These phytosterols stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown, but do not have many of the unpleasant and even dangerous side effects of synthetic anabolic steroids, including acne and reduced natural testosterone production. However, scientists are still uncertain about the exact biochemical pathways by which they operate, and these substances are very difficult to extract in significant quantities. So it is unlikely that they will be seen on the market any time soon, and most “natural” or “herbal” prohormone formulations will continue to be based as much on herb lore as actual scientific evidence of effectiveness.
The bottom line is that prohormones should be sold as dietary supplements. Therefore is they are labeled as dietary supplements from the manufacturer that is selling them, then they should fall under FDA enforcement. That means each bottle of prohormones should be tested for things like strength, composition, identity, and purity. In my opinion, if you want to EXPERIMENT with prohormones, the only company that seems to conduct the correct testing required by the FDA is High Tech Pharmaceuticals.