Foods with anabolic steroids:

The most affordable and accessible foods with the highest concentrations of phytoecdysteroids are spinach, quinoa, and suma root.  These plants contain high amounts of a powerful and naturally occurring form of phytoecdysteroid known as b-ecdysterone or 20-hydroxyecdysone.  Yes, you read correctly, it’s a steroid.  There’s no need for alarm though – I’m not pushing any strange drugs to help pay for my master’s degree.  Actually, after researching phytoecdysteroids, I’m convinced that these little molecules are something we should have more of in our diets.  Some of the claimed benefits of phytoecdysteroids include: anabolic, adaptogenic, hepatoprotective, and hyperglycemic effects.  Below are the approximate amounts of b-ecdysterone contained in the richest food sources:

Spinach:          .01% of fresh weight = 45 mg b-ecdysterone in 450g spinach [1]
-Spinach is also rich in a vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and naturally occurring nitrates.  Plant-based nitrates can be converted by the body into nitric oxide, which is used to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow.  Bodybuilders often take nitric oxide supplements to support muscle growth and athletic performance. 

Quinoa:           .037% of dry weight = 18.25 mg b-ecdysterone in 50g quinoa [2]
-Quinoa is a relative of the spinach plant and is high in minerals, protein, and fiber.  It can be used like a grain but is gluten-free.

Suma root:      .66% of dry weight = 26.4 mg b-ecdysterone in 4g of root powder [3]
(pfaffia paniculatta) The suma plant, also known as Brazilian Ginseng, is a traditional medicine in Brazil.  It’s known to be effective at alleviating so many health problems that it’s called “para todo” – for everything.  Suma is high in a number of powerful compounds including beneficial saponins.  You can get a 1lb bag of suma powder from  Epic Herbs.

When the word “steroid” is heard or read, it’s usually associated with the synthetic, anabolic-androgenic steroid that some athletes use to build muscle or improve performance.  There are many other steroids, however, that are naturally produced in the body and required for proper health: cholesterol, testosterone, and estrogen are the most well known.  Steroids are simply hormones that send messages to the body’s cells.  Different steroids produce different responses.  Humans, animals, and plants all use a number of varoious steroids.

Some plant-eating insects produce and use a group of steroids called ecdysteroids.  Yet, too much of the hormone can cause them problems.  Plants such as spinach, quinoa, and suma, use this biological principle to their advantage.  These plants contain high amounts of hormones that are nearly identical to ecdysteroids (known as phytoecdysteroids) — consequentially, insects that eat these plants can experience a hormonal overload that disables and deters them from continuing to eat the same plants.

In mammals, however, phytoecdysteroid consumption appears to have primarily highly positive effects.  In the 1970s and 80s, Soviet scientist were the first to study the effects of phytoecdysteroids in humans, and it’s suspected that a few Soviet athletes benefited from their findings.  Today, American scientists are performing further phytoecdysteroid studies and beginning to unlock the mysteries of how these powerful hormones work.

In a study done at Rutgers, rats given food containing Spinach extract (containing the equivalent of 50 mg 20-hydroxyecdysone/kg of body weight) had 24% stronger gripping strength at the end of 28-days than rats fed the same food without spinach extract. The rats fed the spinach extract also had slightly stronger gripping strength than rats given traditional anabolic-androgen steroids (the type often used by bodybuilders)!  The same study also used human muscle cell cultures to determine how the cells would respond to phytoecdysteroids.  Treatment with 20-hydroxyecdysone resulted in up to a 20% increase in protein synthesis and also caused decreased protein degradation (which can help improve overall protein gains in muscle).[4]

The greatest concern for most people, when talking about steroids, is the negative androgenic side effects associated with other anabolic (muscle enhancing) steroids, such as prostate growth and breast tissue development in men, and voice deepening and hair growth in women.  Common experience with phytoecdysteroids indicates that while they have powerful anabolic activity, they don’t have the negative side effects associated with anabolic-androgen steroids. Moreover, in the Rutgers study mentioned above, it was found that 20-hydroxydysone did not cause prostate growth like synthetic anabolic steroids did.  This may be attributed to phytoecdysteroids having a shape that prohibits them from binding to cells’ androgenic receptors (the receptors that trigger prostate and hair growth, etc).

At any rate, spinach, quinoa, and suma are all incredibly safe, whole foods! Several studies in addition to the Rutger’s study indicate that phytoecdysteroids have many promising health benefits.  Not only have they been show to increase strength and anabolic activity in mammals, they may also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce visceral fat, aid memory, and improve wound healing efficiency.  The good news is that many of the effects of phytoecdysteroids appear to be achieved at relatively low daily doses: between .5 and 5/mg of 20-hydroxydysone per kg of body weight.  Also, you would have to eat over a hundred pounds of spinach per day before you consumed potentially toxic amounts. On the other hand, if you want to supplement with 20-hydroxyecdysone, there are a number of 20-hyroxyecdysone powders and capsules available.[5][6]

So, while the evidence for phytoecdysteroids is still unfolding, it seems like Popeye was right after all… “Eat your spinach kids!”

Related Products: Suma, Spinach Powder, QuinoaEcdysterone, Creatine, Whey Protein, Glutamine

[1] Phytoecdysteroids: Understanding Their Anabolic Activity by Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman at Rutgers
[2] Ecdysteroids from Chenopodium quinoa Willd., an ancient Andean crop of high nutritional value
[3] Level and distribution of 20-hydroxydysone during Pfaffi glomerata development
[4] Phytoecdysteroids: Understanding Their Anabolic Activity by Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman at Rutgers
[5] Effects and applications of arthropod steroid hormones (ecdysteroids) in mammals.
[6] Practical uses for ecdysteroids in mammals including humans: an update

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Originally posted 2011-09-28 17:46:00.

2 Replies to “Foods with anabolic steroids:”

    1. Yes, quinoa is healthy and delicious. Just be sure to soak it overnight and then rinse it before cooking in order to eliminate the phytic acid and sapanins.

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