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Bodybuilding Pharmacology
Tales of Triacana

These cases point to the paradoxical nature of Triacana, which appears to increase thyroid output but actually lowers it to levels of hypothyroidism.

Triacana is a popular trade name for the generic drug tiratricol, also known as Triax, Nidolin and Teatrois. Tiratricol is a metabolite of the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3), which is the most potent form of thyroid hormone the body produces. Since tiratricol is produced in the course of the metabolism of T3, it’s a naturally occurring substance that even shows up in some foods in small amounts. That’s why some people labeled it a ‘thyroid pro-hormone’ and tried to market it a few years ago. They were initially able to do that because of the notion that as a naturally occurring substance, tiratricol fell under the aegis of the Dietary Health and Supplement Act of 1994, also known as the Hatch Act after the U.S. senator who sponsored it. That same law permits the sale of other natural hormone precursors, such as the various pro-hormone supplements.

But in 1999 the FDA prohibited the sale of over-the-counter versions of tiratricol after a number of reports involving adverse effects, particularly cardiovascular side effects. That was curious because tiratricol had long held a reputation as a mild thyroid drug that usually didn’t produce the side effects typical of other thyroid drugs, such as Cytomel, a direct T3 drug. In any case, tiratricol is no longer legally sold without a prescription, though it’s still offered for sale on the black market and the Internet.

In the 1970s a well-known pro bodybuilder based in Paris popularized use of Triacana among other pro bodybuilders. The primary claim for Triacana was that it would induce considerable bodyfat loss without the muscle loss that often occurred with such other thyroid drugs as Cytomel. Since then much folklore has surrounded Triacana, most of it just plain false.

An example of such myths is that Triacana suppresses natural thyroid hormones less than other thyroid drugs. That’s based on the fact that thyroid output is part of a feedback loop involving the thyroid gland and the brain. In the brain the pituitary gland produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which controls the production of thyroid hormone in the thyroid gland. But the body senses the presence of an outside source of thyroid, leading to a blunted release of TSH. The loss of TSH secretion effectively stops gland synthesis of thyroid hormones.

In fact, Triacana is more potent than even straight thyroid hormone drugs in suppressing TSH output. While advocates of Triacana recognized that, they theorized that even if it did suppress TSH, a rebound effect kicked in immediately after someone got off Triacana, leading to increased thyroid hormone synthesis. Even so, the notion of immediate rebound of thyroid activity was simplistic at best and has proved to be an outright error.

The usual suggested schedule for going on tiratricol, or Triacana, was to start with two pills (0.35 milligrams each) and work up gradually, adding about two pills each consecutive day to a maximum of 10 to 14 pills a day. Since Triacana was said to be comparatively weaker in stimulating metabolism than other thyroid drugs, larger doses were necessary. Indeed, since its effects lasted no more than six hours, multiple daily dosing was also necessary. The drug was never supposed to be used longer than two to three months.

The truth is that normal amounts of Triacana have no metabolic-stimulating activity at all. When taken in larger doses, though, it potently turns off the body’s natural thyroid production. Triacana has a unique effect not often discussed: In peripheral tissues it converts into T3, the most active thyroid hormone; however, since it suppresses TSH, the natural T3 synthesis in the thyroid gland is totally shut down. The blood appears to have a high level of T3, but it isn’t active metabolically. The result is a lowered metabolic effect that looks like hypothyroidism, or deficient thyroid output.

Two case studies recently reported in the same research article bear this out.1 In the first case a 39-year-old male athlete took the suggested dose of three to four tablets of an over-the-counter version of Triacana that’s no longer available for one month, then got off it for two months. Despite getting off the ‘supplement,’ he showed such side effects as lethargy, loss of appetite, sweats, chills and inability to exercise. All of those signs point to hypothyroidism. Since Triacana does suppress TSH output, that’s not surprising, but his thyroid gland didn’t ‘rebound’ as expected when he discontinued the supplement after just a month. Indeed, it took five months for his thyroid output to return to normal.

The second case involved a 40-year-old highly fit woman who showed symptoms of low thyroid output after taking the same over-the-counter thyroid supplement, six tablets a day for 21 days. In her case thyroid output returned to normal 40 days after she got off the supplement.

These cases point to the paradoxical nature of Triacana, which appears to increase thyroid output but actually lowers it to levels of hypothyroidism. More alarming is the absence of the so-called rebound effect. It took a full five months for the male athlete’s thyroid hormone levels to return to normal, even though he followed supplement directions and didn’t overdose.

Back in the ’70s several of the pro bodybuilders who tried Triacana noted the same paradoxical effect: They didn’t get more muscularly defined but instead got fatter. Some even hinted that the French bodybuilder who brought over the drug did so in a sneaky attempt to hinder their contest preparation, since he was competing against them.

If it seems moot to discuss a supplement that hasn’t been available over the counter in the U.S. for some time, you should know that it is still available from other sources. For example, it’s still sold as a drug in France. Knowing that Triacana is a false thyroid drug’not only in that it provides little or no metabolic stimulation but also in that it turns off natural thyroid output for an extended period’any rational person would avoid using it for fat-loss purposes.

Growth Hormone and Fat Loss
I recently remarked in this space that the anabolic effects of growth hormone (GH) are dubious at best. Many bodybuilders who are aware of that nevertheless combine GH in a stack that also includes testosterone and insulin. That triumvirate of anabolic drugs is thought to exert potent synergistic effects, yet to date no scientific study has measured its efficacy.

GH’s fat-reducing effects are legendary. In fact, most ads that promote GH-stimulating supplements often tout their fat-loss effects. That does have some scientific basis. GH is recognized to have a repartitioning effect on bodyfat stores that results in a loss of subcutaneous fat. In a bodybuilder loss of fat depositions just under the skin would lead to increased muscle definition.

What about using GH as a treatment for actual obesity? On the surface that makes sense, given the hormone’s known fat-mobilizing effect. But a recent review of that aspect of GH metabolism determined that it was practically useless as a treatment for obesity.2 The study analyzed 16 previous studies that used GH to treat human obesity.

The review notes that obese people often have higher blood levels of either insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1) or free fatty acids. IGF-1 is produced in the liver as a result of GH release. Both IGF-1 and an excess of blood free fatty acids, however, lead to a blunting of GH release through a feedback mechanism. In other words, many obese people are deficient in GH release. Some studies show that when obese subjects take a drug similar to the B-complex vitamin niacin, which lowers blood fatty acid levels, GH release returns to normal.

The excess fatty acid levels in the blood of many obese people lead to trouble in several ways. They foster insulin resistance and act as an irritant to heart function, possibly leading to dangerous heart-rhythm disturbances. When obese patients get GH as therapy, things not only don’t improve but actually get worse. Insulin resistance increases, blood fatty acid levels rise even higher, and protective levels of HDL cholesterol drop. The higher levels of GH-induced blood glucose promote increased insulin release, which is already a problem in obese people.

Side effects associated with GH injections include excess water retention, joint pains and carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve compression in the wrist. Even worse, GH does little or nothing to lower visceral, or deep-lying abdominal, fat deposits, the most dangerous type of fat in the body. While GH does initially help retain lean mass, that effect is lost after a few weeks of continuous use.

A decrease in GH release in obese people is an attribute of their obesity. GH usually returns to normal in obese people who lose fat through diet and exercise. So GH may reduce subcutaneous fat levels in already muscular athletes, but it will do little or nothing to improve the plight of obese people, who still need to exercise and diet properly.

Book Review:
Chemical Muscle Enhancement

Several books purport to be guides for producing massive physiques by way of anabolic drugs. Most are merely picture books of various drugs, with text that reads as if copied verbatim from either drug inserts or the Physician’s Desk Reference. They may provide interesting reading, but little practical value.

One book that I’ve come across differs in that respect. Chemical Muscle Enhancement initially appears to take an extreme approach to using anabolic drugs of various types, but a closer reading demonstrates that many such ‘cycles’ are precisely what a majority of professional bodybuilding champions are using today. Acquiring the look of a professional bodybuilder, of course, isn’t just a matter of taking drugs. Training and favorable genetics also play dominant roles in the success of those athletes.

But for those who insist on knowing just what the champs take, Chemical Muscle Enhancement is the book to read. The author, L. Rea, has more than 16 years of academic background, but more important, he’s worked with athletes for some 20 years. While I may not agree with all the techniques he espouses in his book, I found it virtually error-free in the scientific-facts department.

This book is not for the squeamish, and Rea is a definite drug guru, bringing to mind the late Dan Duchaine’s early writing. Like Dan, he has hands-on experience, not merely armchair philosophy.

The book discusses every anabolic drug available and describes real-world methods of using such drugs. You’ll also learn what can go wrong when you make yourself a one-person scientific experiment. If you so choose, however, you can’t find a better guide to current anabolic-drug use than Chemical Muscle Enhancement, the underground steroid and drug handbook of the 21st century.

You can get Rea’s book by calling toll-free 1-800-447-0008, or log on to

1 Scally, M.C., et al. (2003). A report of hypothyroidism induced by an over-the-counter fat-loss supplement (tiratricol). Int J Sports Nutr Metab. 13:112-116.
2 Shadid, S., et al. (2003). Effects of growth hormone administration in human obesity. Obesity Res. 11:170-75. IM

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