Ecdysteroid: I Want To Believe (but I don't)

I saw a clinical study posted in /r/advancedfitness which piqued my interest and had me discussing its market availability with colleagues (at least when I first found it). The study posted showed an under-dosed off the shelf supplement having an enormous impact on LBM. Could this commonly found supplement be the real deal?

I'm now skeptical.

Ecdysteroid, aka ecdy, aka 20-Hydroxyecdysone. Firstly, it's most definitely a steroid with the typical 4 chain structure, but otherwise looks kinda funky with HO and OH in curious places. It's naturally occurring in animals with exoskeletons (crabs etc.) and plants. It's impact in humans is relatively unknown - it binds with ecdysone receptors, which humans don't have, but seems to have anabolic effects in vitro (test tube experiments) probably from binding with the estrogen receptor. The in vivo (real live human) data is still emerging and of mixed quality.

Study 1: 42 rats were injected with 5mg/kg for 21 days. In comparison to control, the rats treated with Ecdy had a ~75% increase in (soleus) muscle size over control, and significantly outperformed the SARM S1, dbol, and trenbolox (~25% increase in soleus muscle size over control).

Study 2 (the one in /r/advancedfitness): 46 resistance trained men over 10 weeks, split into placebo, Ec1 (12mg - 200mg) and Ec2 (48mg - 800mg). Due to the under-dosing of supplement we don't really know how much was consumed, but suffice to say Ec2 took the most. Ec1 & Ec2 gained 2.5kg and 3kg in body weight respectively, compared to placebo (1kg gain), of which 1.5kg and 2kg respectively was muscle mass.

Issues with this study:

  • Ec1 outperformed Ec2 on bench press gain, but not on squat, indicating some variation in groups and level of training. You would expect strength gains to be relatively consistent between groups
  • From the study: The body weight of pre- and post-tests did not show significant differences within all groups. The participants from Ec1 and Ec2 increased their body weight significantly over 10 weeks... what? Which is it?
  • Unknown doses. The supplement was under-dosed, at least on the sample they tested, and given the capsule form I'd say that there may be significant differences from pill to pill. This is a huge design issue - standardize your doses, for goodness sake.

Study 3: 45 resistance trained men assigned to one of four groups, one of them being 200mg of Ecdy per day. There were no significant differences in FFM, body fat %, strength. Ecdy actually had a negligible negative impact to Fat Free Mass (i.e. they got slightly fatter).

So What?

The huge amount of conflicting data between studies 2 & 3, plus a questionable Ecdy source in study 2, leads me to believe something else was at play and that study 2 needs to be re-run, this time with competent researchers. Study 1 indicates that this compound is something worth evaluating, perhaps in an injectable form, or at various oral doses with a more scientific approach. For now, I don't see conclusive evidence of this compound having benefit.