The effects of an anabolic agent on body composition and pulmonary function in tetraplegia: a pilot study

Spinal Cord. 2010 Jan;48(1):55-9. doi: 10.1038/sc.2009.82. Epub 2009 Jul 7.


Study design: Prospective repeated-measures longitudinal study.

Objectives: To determine if an 8-week course of an oral anabolic steroid can positively effect body composition or pulmonary function in healthy individuals with chronic tetraplegia.

Setting: United States.

Methods: Oxandrolone (20 mg per day) was administered for 8 weeks to 10 men with motor complete tetraplegia. Dual X-ray absorptiometry scans, pulmonary function tests (PFTs), serum lipids and liver function tests (LFTs) were obtained at baseline, 4, 8, 12 and 20 weeks. To analyze change over time, a repeated measures General Linear Model and nonparametric tests were utilized.

Results: Following treatment, total lean body mass (LBM) increased 1.9% and LBM of the arms increased 5.4%. Total body fat decreased 1.5%, and increased 3.9% in the arms and, on average, combined measures of PFTs improved 2.2%. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol decreased 31.8%, low density lipoprotein cholesterol increased 41.2%, and LFTs increased 9.7-65.6% while on therapy but all trended to baseline at 20 weeks.

Conclusion: Baseline body composition was characterized by a high proportion of fat and a body mass index that underestimated chronic disease risk. Treatment with oxandrolone was associated with modest improvements in PFTs and in arm and total body LBM. Unfavorable changes in serum lipids and LFTs indicate that reported benefits of using oxandrolone in this population must be carefully weighed against potential adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / methods
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anabolic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anabolic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Body Composition / drug effects*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Lipids / blood
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / blood
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxandrolone / administration & dosage
  • Oxandrolone / pharmacology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Quadriplegia
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Lipids
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Oxandrolone