Context: Patients receiving dialysis commonly experience malnutrition, reduced muscle mass (sarcopenia), and fatigue for which no effective treatment has been identified. Anabolic steroids are known to increase muscle mass and strength in healthy individuals, but their effect on the sarcopenia and fatigue associated with long-term dialysis has not been evaluated.
Objective: To assess the effects of an anabolic steroid, nandrolone decanoate, on lean body mass (LBM), functional status, and quality of life in dialysis patients.
Design: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted between April 1996 and July 1997.
Setting: Hospital-based outpatient dialysis unit.
Patients: Twenty-nine patients undergoing dialysis for at least 3 months.
Intervention: Nandrolone decanoate, 100 mg (n = 14), or placebo (n = 15) by intramuscular injection once a week for 6 months.
Main outcome measures: Weight, LBM, fatigue, grip strength, walking and stair-climbing times, and treadmill performance after 3 and 6 months of treatment.
Results: Lean body mass increased significantly in patients given nandrolone compared with patients given placebo (mean change [SD], +4.5 [2.3] kg; P<.001 compared with baseline). This effect was significantly greater than the change in LBM in the placebo group (mean change [SD], +1.9 [1.6] kg; P = .003 compared with baseline; P = .005 compared with nandrolone group). Serum creatinine levels increased in the nandrolone group (+168  mmol/L [1.9 [2.3] mg/dL]; P = .02) but not in the placebo group (-4.0  mmol/L [0.04 [2.0] mg/dL]; P = .95), suggesting an increase in muscle mass. Time to complete the walking and stair-climbing test decreased from 36.5 to 32.7 seconds in the nandrolone group, while those in the placebo group increased from 38.7 to 42.1 seconds (P = .05). Peak oxygen consumption increased in the individuals in the nandrolone group who performed treadmill tests, but not to a statistically significant degree. Grip strength did not change in either group.
Conclusions: Treatment with nandrolone for 6 months resulted in a significant increase in LBM associated with functional improvement in patients undergoing dialysis.