Mark McGwire's Andro May Not Be So Macho

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In the minds of some fans, Mark McGwire’s historic 70 home runs in 1998 will always carry an asterisk in the record books because of the slugger’s controversial use of the dietary supplement androstenedione, touted as a muscle strengthener. Now after a study published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, the asterisk may actually stand for something else: foolishness. The latest research, a small study of 20 men, found that androstenedione did not boost strength and did not increase the level of the male hormone testosterone; instead the supplement raised the men's level of the female hormone estrogen and reduced their level of HDL, or "good" cholesterol.

The implications of the findings are that andro could promote breast enlargement in men and increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. "The study indicates that andro has all bad side effects and none of the advantages claimed for it," says TIME medical columnist Christine Gorman. "By taking it you may actually be working against yourself." Exercise, she points out, usually increases the body’s good cholesterol, but taking the dietary supplement does the opposite, and thus may take away that particular benefit of working out. The bottom line, she says, "is don’t take andro. What you don’t know about dietary supplements can hurt you."