What is androstenedione and how does it affect our body?

Sex hormones regulate a large number of functions related to reproduction. Unfortunately, the variation in substances such as androstenedione can cause significant alterations.

Last update: September 02, 2021

All the functions of the human body are regulated by specific substances called hormones. Hormone synthesis is a complex process, requiring multiple enzymes and other compounds before obtaining the end result. Androstenedione is one of the precursors of androgen synthesis.

Androgens are a set of hormones whose main function is the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. However, they also participate in other important processes. In fact, studies show that they play an important role in the development and maintenance of the skeleton.

What is androstenedione?

Androstenedione is a steroid hormone belonging to the group of androgens. It is also known as andro, andros or 4-androstenedione. The human body can synthesize this compound in various glands, although it can also be found in meat and some plants.

The main structure responsible for the production of this hormone is the cortex of the adrenal gland. The gonads also participate in its synthesis, so it is possible to find high concentrations in the testes and ovaries. This substance originates from cholesterol, which must undergo a series of enzymatic changes to become the compound.

Androstenedione is not a proper hormone, since its intrinsic activity is very weak. In this sense, specialists consider it as a pro-hormone, as it is an important precursor to testosterone and some estrogens. It is transformed into the final hormones in the gonads themselves or in peripheral tissues.

Andros blood levels are usually low in both sexes. In fact, studies show that its concentration varies between 60 and 230 nanograms per deciliter in men between 20 and 30 years old. However, these levels can be increased in menopausal women due to the production of estrone.

Some athletes used oral androstenedione supplements to improve performance a few years ago. Nevertheless, there are no scientific studies to support these effects. Also, people can develop side reactions due to increased plasma levels of testosterone.

The cortex of the adrenal glands is the priority area for the production of this pro-hormone.

Consequences of high androstenedione levels

It is important to note that this pro-hormone is unable to bind to cell receptors. In this sense, the substance itself does not have any effect on the body. However, high levels of androstenedione will raise blood levels of testosterone and estrogens.

Women are usually the most affected if testosterone levels rise above normal values. This fact can be translated into the appearance of multiple symptoms, among which hirsutism stands out. It is nothing more than the excessive growth of facial and body hair.

Excessive androgen levels in women can also lead to acne and weight gain, as well as changes in menstrual periods and genitalia. The most common causes of this disorder are polycystic ovary syndrome and Cushing's syndrome.

For its part, Men also undergo various changes when androstenedione levels increase, which are due to an imbalance in the amounts of estrogens and testosterone. The increase in the former can cause the development of gynecomastia, that is, the enlargement of the mammary glands.

In addition, this alteration entails other changes, depending on its cause. Among the unwanted effects, the decrease in the size of the testicles stands out. The most common cause is the presence of a testosterone-producing adrenal tumor or testicular tumors.

Consequences of low androstenedione levels

Low androstenedione levels translate into decreased concentration of sex hormones in both sexes. This fact delays the onset of puberty in boys. In this sense, they will not develop the secondary sexual characteristics corresponding to their sex.

The decrease in andros also has a great impact on fetuses, since they are usually born with alterations in the genitalia. On the other hand, the reduction of estrogens and testosterone can also affect people in adulthood. Men tend to have decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, decreased sperm count, loss of muscle mass, and increased body fat.

Fortunately, androstenedione deficiency does not greatly affect women. In fact, the ovaries initiate a gradual decline in androgen production in the years leading up to menopause.

The ovaries have a particular mode of operation that makes androstenedione deficiencies less obvious in women.

A little known substance, but very important

Androstenedione is the main precursor in testosterone production in men and some estrogens in women. In this sense, the increase or decrease in the concentration of this substance alters the levels of sex hormones. The serum levels of the pro-hormone are very low, however, they can be useful in the detection of some pathologies.

The clinical manifestations generated by hormonal alterations are very evident in both sexes and can cause infertility. Therefore, you should see a doctor immediately in the presence of symptoms that indicate the presence of variations in androgens.