Update on nandrolone and norsteroids: how endogenous or xenobiotic are these substances?

  • V. Bricout
  • F. WrightEmail author
Review Article


Norsteroids are xenobiotics with androgenic and anabolic properties known since as far back as the 1930s. In doping controls, the use of the banned xenobiotic norsteroids is detected in the competitor’s urines by the measurement of norandrosterone (19-NA) and noretiocholanolone (19-NE), which are the main metabolites for nandrolone (NT) and most norsteroids with anabolic properties. In 1996, the IOC subcommission “Doping and Biochemistry of Sport” informed the Heads of the “IOC Accredited Laboratories” that the recommended cut-off limit for reporting an offence was to be 1–2 ng ml−1 urine for either 19-NA or 19-NE. We will discuss how technical progress in gas chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry permitted a dramatic increase in sensitivity with a detection limit of 1 pg ml−1 urine, or less, and an assay limit of 20–50 pg ml−1 urine, for either 19-NA or 19-NE. As a paradox, norsteroids have been known for decades as not only xenobiotics but also obligatory endogenous intermediates in the biosynthesis of estrogens from androgens in all species, man included. It is this biochemical observation which fed the active scientific and medical controversy initiated in 1998 over the possibly endogenous production of nandrolone and metabolites well over the new IOC’s recommended cut-off limit of 2 ng ml−1 urine. Notwithstanding the particular technical difficulties attached, we will provide data and discuss the minute endogenous levels detected and measured in man either at rest, after performance or training and compare them to the relatively high levels reported in male athlete’s doping controls today. We will also discuss data on the pharmacological effects of some contraceptive therapies containing norsteroids in women. In view of the well-documented noxious effects repeatedly observed after anabolic steroid misuse, the confirmation and implementation of technically proven procedures for reporting norsteroid abuse in sports seems an important enough goal to protect athlete’s health against such abuses and justifies up dating the review of the patent scientific and medical experience and knowledge gained over the last 50 years on nandrolone and its minor production in man and woman.


Doping Human biosynthesis Nandrolone Norsteroids Sports 



We wish to thank Pr Jean-Claude Legrand, President of the University Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris (France), who encouraged us to study this subject and never let us down, Pr Doctor Pietro E. di Prampero, who encouraged us to submit this paper and the French Federation of Judo and Associated Sports (FFJDA), which led us to review the scientific data on nandrolone endogenous production and norsteroid misuse at a very dramatic time for its associates.


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© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UFR de Sciences, Département STAPSUniversité d’AvignonAvignonFrance
  2. 2.Faculté de Médecine Pitié-Salpêtrière, Service de Biochimie MédicaleUniversité Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 13France

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