A prohormone is a compound that, once ingested, converts to a hormone, hence the prefix "pro”. In a nutshell, prohormones are converted to anabolic hormones by liver enzymes, raising the levels of testosterone ,19-nortestosterone (and other hormones) in the body. It is these male hormones that govern the processes that regulate muscle hypertrophy (muscle building) and fat burning. Prohormones are claimed to improve the body's response to exercise, specifically resistance (anaerobic) exercise, by rapidly increasing the rate of nutrient processing and conversion, allowing the body to recover from workouts and build muscle faster and, depending on the compound used, to lower body fat levels. Prohormones were introduced to the supplement world in 1996 by American chemist Patrick Arnold, who developed the supplement androstenedione. Androstenedione was quickly followed by a number of other supplements like androstenediol, norandrostenediol, 1-4-androstadienedione, and 5 alpha androstenediol, to name a few. Today, prohormone compounds vary a great deal in potency, as well as the side effects that can accompany their use. They are available in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquid , and even transdermal creams. Dosing protocols vary, depending on the specific prohormone compound.
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Although results vary depending on the specific prohormone used, they mainly include increased muscle mass and strength (decreased body fat is common too). Prohormones exert their effects through several different pathways, but the ones that are most important to people considering them are their actions via the body's androgenic, estrogenic, and progesteronic receptors. It is through these receptors that prohormone effects are largely mediated, with other pathways of secondary importance. Prohormones are androgen agonists, meaning they work by activating the androgen receptor. A strong androgen receptor agonist means that effects related to the male hormone testosterone will be particularly prominent. These include increased aggression, sex drive, and alpha male type characteristics in general, as well as a heightened risk of side effects related to high androgen levels (i.e. an increased susceptibility to hair loss and acne), although these side effects are very much individual in nature and depend on the person taking them. They tend to be a problem mostly for those already susceptible to these conditions. Linked to these androgenic effects is the propensity for prohormones to induce sizeable increases in muscle size and strength, and a hardening effect on the muscles- the muscle tissue simply “feels” denser. Prohormones that do not convert to estrogen exhibit these types of muscle gains with no water retention.
Aside from their effects on androgen receptors, prohormones can also work via estrogen and progesterone receptors. The effects tend to be similar in nature, so prohormones that convert to estrogen and progesterone have the ability to cause large increases in mass and strength. However, much of the mass is of a poor quality (i.e. appears to be “puffy”), and such gains often disappear rapidly after the cycle is over, since they have to do mostly with water retention.
Prohormones are suitable for use by anyone 21 years of age or older who wishes to increase muscle mass and strength. Many prohormone compounds can have negative side effects when taken by females. If you're a female and are considering taking a prohormone, you should do research to determine which prohormone will give you the greatest potential benefit with the least amount of negative side effects.
Prohormones should not be used by individuals with endocrine systems that have not fully matured (anyone under the age of 21), or people with pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular problems (i.e. heart disease), liver or kidney problems, or diabetes. Some hormones are significantly more potent than others and can have a detrimental effect on the body when used improperly.
As mentioned above, side effects from prohormones are directly related to the compound that is used. Acne, hair loss, libido fluctuations, lethargy, liver and/or other organ toxicity are only some of the potential negative effects. Drastically increasing your body's level of male hormones can also cause a corresponding rise in female hormones, especially estrogen, as well. This can create side effects like water retention, mood changes, and gynecomastia, or swelling of male breast tissue. Anti-estrogens are often used during prohormone cycles to combat such conditions, while post-cycle therapy (PCT) -- the use of supplements to restore the body's hormonal balance after a cycle- is necessary for most prohormones.
When used properly, prohormones can greatly enhance the user's capacity for muscle and strength gains. This enhancement doesn't come without a price, however. The decision to use a prohormone is a consideration that should not be taken lightly. Careful thought and thorough research are necessary to choose the best prohormone for you, which will depend on your age, goals, and experience. Athletes should also note that some prohormones are banned by collegiate and professional sports organizations. If you are involved in competitive athletics, please check the rules and regulations of your governing organization/association before using these products.