Ecdysteroids as non-conventional anabolic agent: performance enhancement by ecdysterone supplementation in humans


Recent studies suggest that the anabolic effect of ecdysterone, a naturally occurring steroid hormone claimed to enhance physical performance, is mediated by estrogen receptor (ER) binding. In comparison with the prohibited anabolic agents (e.g., metandienone and others), ecdysterone revealed to be even more effective in a recent study performed in rats. However, scientific studies in humans are very rarely accessible. Thus, our project aimed at investigating the effects of ecdysterone-containing products on human sport exercise. A 10-week intervention study of strength training of young men (n = 46) was carried out. Different doses of ecdysterone-containing supplements have been administered during the study to evaluate the performance-enhancing effect. Analysis of blood and urine samples for ecdysterone and potential biomarkers of performance enhancement has been conducted. To ensure the specificity of the effects measured, a comprehensive screening for prohibited performance-enhancing substances was also carried out. Furthermore, the administered supplement has been tested for the absence of anabolic steroid contaminations prior to administration. Significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in those participants that were dosed with ecdysterone. The same hypertrophic effects were also detected in vitro in C2C12 myotubes. Even more relevant with respect to sports performance, significantly more pronounced increases in one-repetition bench press performance were observed. No increase in biomarkers for liver or kidney toxicity was noticed. These data underline the effectivity of an ecdysterone supplementation with respect to sports performance. Our results strongly suggest the inclusion of ecdysterone in the list of prohibited substances and methods in sports in class S1.2 “other anabolic agents”.

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The authors acknowledge the financial support from the World Anti-Doping Agency (grant no. WADA 15C18MP). Dr. Jan F Joseph, Core Facility BioSupramol, Freie Universitaet Berlin (FUB), Germany, is acknowledged for analytical support and Steffen Loke, Institute of Pharmacy, FUB, for copyediting.

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Correspondence to Maria Kristina Parr.

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Isenmann, E., Ambrosio, G., Joseph, J.F. et al. Ecdysteroids as non-conventional anabolic agent: performance enhancement by ecdysterone supplementation in humans. Arch Toxicol 93, 1807–1816 (2019) doi:10.1007/s00204-019-02490-x

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  • Sports performance
  • Doping
  • Ecdysterone
  • Spinach extract
  • Humans
  • Resistance training