Can estrogen work to augment muscle growth?
[i]Is this hormone always unwanted when we are taking anabolic steroids? Anecdotal reports from athletes suggest that the use of estrogen maintenance drugs such as tamoxifen (anti-estrogen) or aminoglutethimide (anti-aromatase) may slightly hinder muscle mass gains during steroid therapy. An explanation or even clarification for this observation has not been easy to come by. Here I would like to take a look at the comparative effectiveness of certain aromatizable and non-aromatizable drugs, as well as the possible mechanism in which estrogen can play a beneficial role to the athlete.
The Androgen Receptor
All anabolic/androgenic steroids promote muscle growth primarily via the cellular androgen receptor (abbreviated as AR in this article). The steroid attaches to and activates the androgen receptor, which ultimately gives the cell an order to increase protein synthesis. This process is well understood. But it has been suggested that other mechanisms may foster muscle growth during steroid therapy as well, which lie outside of the androgen receptor. One way this is evidenced is by the fact that steroids displaying a high affinity for the AR in muscle tissue do not always promote an equally high level of muscle growth. In other words, anabolic potency does not always correspond perfectly to receptor affinity. Clearly there are some disparities that lead into question whether or not the androgen receptor is the only thing at work concerning growth.
Testosterone, Nandrolone and Methenolone
Testosterone is without question one of the most effective steroids for building muscle mass available to athletes. However it does not have the highest affinity for the androgen receptor compared to some other steroids. For example, it has been shown that by eliminating the 19-methyl group (nandrolone) the affinity of the steroid for the androgen receptor is greatly enhanced. Nandrolone thus displays approximately 2-3 times greater affinity for the androgen receptor compared to testosterone, yet its ability to promote muscle growth seems to be considerably lower than testosterone at an equal dosage. One discussed possibility for this occurrence is the reduced androgenic potency of nandrolone. While testosterone converts to the more active steroid dihydrotestosterone (3-4 times greater AR affinity) upon interaction with the 5-alpha reductase enzyme in various androgenic target tissues such as the skin, scalp, prostate, CNS and liver, nandrolone drops to a third of its original potency by converting to the weak steroid dihydronandrolone[ii]. However this action is very site specific, and in muscle tissue nandrolone dominates as the active form of the steroid. Therefore this explanation may not suffice.
Nandrolone also differs from testosterone in its ability to be converted by the aromatase enzyme to estradiol (an active estrogen). In comparison, nandrolone aromatizes at approximately 20% of the rate testosterone does, and as such is not known as a very estrogenic steroid. It is likewise favored when reduced estrogenic side effects such as water retention, fat deposition and gynecomastia are desired. However athletes know that there is a trade off with the reduced tendency for nandrolone to promote side effects, in that it is a less anabolic steroid. With its known high affinity for the AR in muscle tissue, could this suggest that estrogen may also be a key mediator of muscle growth?
When we look at PrimobolanÂ® (methenolone) we see a similar trend. Methenolone is at least as good a binder of the androgen receptor as testosterone. By some accounts it is on par with nandrolone[iii]. However it is known to be much weaker than both steroids at promoting muscle growth. We know that methenolone does not interact with 5-alpha reductase, and as such its affinity for the AR does not increase or decrease in androgen target tissues. This would logically seem like a more favorabl