Myth vs. Reality

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Creatine and Androstenedione: Myth vs. Reality

What if there was a drug you could take that guaranteed increased energy and strength? Not only that, but it came in an easy-to-swallow capsule, it could safely and naturally increase your level of testosterone, (the most potent of muscle building hormones), and it would be perfectly legal to buy and relatively inexpensive.

The sellers of creatine and androstenedione (pronounced androe-steen-die-own) make these sorts of claims although there are no long-term studies of the effectiveness or safety of these drugs. Nevertheless, retailers can’t keep them on the shelves. Their popularity has been aided by high profile athletes. Both drugs are chemicals naturally produced in the body and found in minute amounts in food, mostly red meat. But that is where the similarities end.

Creatine
For many years, the world’s foremost studies of creatine and its effect on athletic performance were carried out in secrecy by communist Eastern-bloc countries. But after the fall of Communism, the training and experimental drugs used on Soviet and East German Olympic athletes was revealed. Aside from exposing the truth about illegal anabolic steroid use, there was the discovery of a "vitamin" called creatine, which was quickly introduced to the U.S. and marketed as an ergogenic, or energy-enhancing supplement.

Creatine was not a vitamin, however, but a synthesized blend of certain amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. The benefit creatine provides is increased energy for quick, anaerobic bursts of activity, such as are required in weightlifting. Athletes taking creatine can do more repetitions and sets of exercises than they could without it. Essentially, it speeds up the process of adding strength and size to the muscles by intensifying the workout. It has been compared to the way a marathon runner might saturate his muscles with carbohydrates before a race to provide endurance except that creatine strictly helps in anaerobic activities like muscle contractions.

Creatine is made in small amounts by the body, and aids a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which controls all types of muscle contractions, from bench pressing 400 pounds to blinking an eye. To contract a muscle, the ATP molecule releases one of the three phosphate groups. Creatine comes into play by attaching to the free-floating phosphate and reforming into ATP. Thus, energy is provided until the creatine in the muscle is depleted. Thus, the effect of a creatine supplement is to provide the muscles with more creatine than the body can produce on its own and thus increase energy. Furthermore, creatine allows the muscles to retain more water. The advantage of this is that the muscles, which are 75% water to begin with, will work more efficiently and recover from the abuses of weightlifting more quickly. For bodybuilders, an added plus is that the water will make the muscle appear larger.

Little is known about the long-term effects of using creatine, but it has not been shown to be in anyway unsafe in the short term. Studies in animals where creatine is removed from the muscles have shown that the muscle quickly atrophies and weakens, signaling that creatine may be an essential chemical in muscular usage. One side effect of supplementation, however, is that the body, not used to such large quantities of creatine in the muscle, shuts down its own natural production of creatine. Such an effect is also seen when testosterone is artificially taken to build muscle through the use of anabolic steroids, often to disastrous consequences. Whether or not such a stoppage of creatine production is permanent or harmful is unknown.

Androstenedione
While creatine is a supplement that only provides more energy to aid in workouts, androstenedione is designed to actually build muscle tissue by raising the body’s level of testosterone. Androstenedione is a precursor molecule to testosterone, which...
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