Anabolic steroid-like supplements still on market despite recent ban

By Josh Benton

No overwhelming amount of acne. No “roid-rage.” He doesn’t look like the type to take anabolic steroids. Yet, within a two month span, the once scrawny guy in the gym has grown rapidly; no longer the recipient of condescending looks in the mirror and butts of jokes. No one is sure exactly what dietary supplement he is taking, but a bottle of pills is seen in his gym bag. The bottle is labeled “Methyl-1-Testosterone” of which only the word testosterone is familiar, but testosterone is supposed to be strictly intravenous. After the Anabolic Steroid Act of 2004 was passed, some anabolic steroid users have found it easier than ever to get almost identical illegal anabolic steroids—legally. The act, commonly called “the pro-hormone ban” was implemented to stop the use and distribution of then-popular pill-form anabolic steroids (pro-hormones), but questions of the ban’s effectiveness have risen again, as more dietary supplement companies find loopholes in the law; distributing potent forms of its illegal counterparts.

“The ban has done more harm than good,” said a former marketing director at a dietary supplement company. “They (the U.S. government) didn’t realize the effect the ban would have on the lifters who were on the fence about pro-hormones…it has pushed a lot of them toward steroids,” he said.

According to the former marketing director, his company’s products were primarily developed by a laboratory, and then his company bought the rights to sell the drug and distributed the product.
“The chemical makeup of some of the products we used to carry was so similar to the actual steroid,” he said. “If a chemist were to actually look at the two, he’d know right away that they were basically the same thing.”

Bottle of oral testosterone Photo courtesy of www.supplements101.com

Pro-steroid?

According to a study done by the University of California at Los Angeles, by definition a pro-hormone is a synthetically manufactured compound that converts to an anabolic hormone by way of enzymes in the liver. The word pro-steroid was re-introduced after the ban took place, as unlike a pro-hormone, it does not need an enzyme-induced reaction to get converted into an anabolic hormone; it is an anabolic steroid that has yet to be classified as such. The rise of pro-steroids can be attributed to its superior effectiveness over pro-hormones, but its safety is in doubt. Being a pill, both require the use of a methyl group attachment within the compound that allows the steroid to be absorbed longer in the liver, thereby extending its bioavailability. Without the methyl group attachment, the bioavailability would be nearly useless, as the human body wouldn’t be able to absorb and utilize the compound ingested orally.
But the methyl group attachment that allows the user to utilize the benefits of the drug does not come without its fair share of downsides. Since the liver is the body’s natural filter, the extended time that the compound spends getting absorbed into the bloodstream puts a lot of additional stress on the vital organ. Because of the added stress, the consumption of alcoholic beverages while taking a pro-steroid may put the liver at risk for premature failure. Many of the pro-steroids, although based on an existing steroid with known side-effects, have not had extensive long-term research to determine the safety of each compound.

In addition to adding a methyl group attachment in each compound, most pro-steroids need alkylation, another change in the chemical makeup to counteract the liver’s natural instinct to break-down and throw-away.

Sample M1-t ingredient list photo courtesy of vpxsports.com


“Alkylation makes the product useable, but it is also what magnifies sides…I have seen a lot of long-time steroid users report harsher sides while on orals (pro-steroids),” he said.

M1-t

One of the most popular pro-steroids of the post-ban era was called “Methyl-1-Testosterone.” M1-test, as it is commonly referred to, took the market by surprise, with some people experiencing gains of up to 20lbs. in only two weeks. The old adage of ‘too good to be true’ holds true here as well—due to its level of potency, some users experienced side-effects that parallel, and even surpass those of anabolic steroids. The appeal of the pro-steroid was also the cost. One bottle (approximately one 4-5 week cycle) could be had for as little as $20, as opposed to a vial of 1-testosterone, which for the same cycle length, can be upwards of $100. Not surprisingly, it was banned and deemed illegal shortly after its popularity became widespread.

M1-test mimics the steroid 1-testosterone, a popular drug that is injected intravenously. But to make 1-testosterone for oral consumption, the chemical makeup needed to be altered through alkylation and an addition of a methyl-group attachment. M1-test was so popular it was not uncommon to see a lot of new, inexperienced users trying it, thinking it was safer than steroids because it was administered orally.

Chemical Make-up of Testosterone

“Almost all my friends took it,” said Hawai‘i Pacific University graduate Claude Izuka. “They got bigger and stronger, but they had a lot of side effects.” Izuka also said the two glaring side effects were bad temperament and back acne.
“From a marketing standpoint, it was a no-brainer” said another dietary supplement company representative. “Making oral substances closely related to steroids available for a fraction of the cost, was logically the next step to counter the (pro-hormone) ban,” he added.

While it may seem simple to a chemist or an experienced steroid user, the path that any pill-form steroid takes is a lot longer than that of intravenous anabolic steroids, as they are injected straight into the bloodstream, whereas pro-hormones and pro-steroids alike, must be broken-down and absorbed in a longer process.

“The ease of downing a pill automatically makes people think it is safer, like an over-the-counter drug,” the marketing representative said. “But it has to pass from station to station after being swallowed, but anabolic steroids (syringe-induced) immediately go where they’re supposed to, and get absorbed quickly, reducing the possibility of toxicity,” He said.

Effectiveness of Ban

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the distribution of dietary supplements before going on the market due to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, is banning substances shortly after arriving on the market that are deemed “unsafe” or too closely related to anabolic steroids. Under the DSHEA, companies had freedom to distribute whatever they wanted, as long as it was “safe.” But some companies who distributed some pro-hormones or pro-steroids may be under closer surveillance.

“I know they’re (the FDA) watching us more,” said the marketing director. “But we don’t intend on, nor did we ever produce anything that doesn’t comply with the ban.”

The Anabolic Steroid Act of 2004 was unanimously voted on and implemented on Jan. 22, 2005. Some people consider the ban a direct result of professional baseball player, and single-season homerun record holder, Barry Bonds’ investigation, where Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) allegedly distributed “designer steroids” similar to pro-hormones and pro-steroids to him and other professional athletes. Other people believe the ephedrine scare was the deciding factor.

“I think it’s because of both,” said avid weightlifter and UH Manoa student Bryce Zukemura. “The ephedrine deaths and the BALCO investigation were around the same time, parents started to watch what their student-athletes were taking.”
Whether a serious weightlifter, or an occasional gym-patron with an interest in fitness, look around the gym next time and see if you notice a drastic change in anyone. But don’t suspect anabolic steroids, it could just be a bottle of pills; bought legally.


UH Today is produced by students in the Journalism program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
© 2007 UHM Journalism program and students. Use of copyrighted materials are for educational use only.