by Mitchell Clute
On Aug. 4, the Council for Responsible Nutrition announced a new voluntary guideline for marketing dehydroepiandrosterone. Under the program, members will not market DHEA to children under age 18 or suggest that it can be used for bodybuilding or muscle enlargement like an anabolic steroid. CRN chose the eve of the Olympics to launch the initiative.
When Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act in 2004, a move supported by the dietary supplements industry, DHEA was specifically exempted because it doesn't act like a performance-enhancing steroid and also because it has benefits to older consumers.
"The issue here is marketing, not safety," said Steven Mister, president and CEO of CRN, based in Washington, D.C. "It's about a few products that mismarket themselves and claim benefits that we know the research does not support."
Mister said CRN members generally market DHEA as a way to restore healthy levels of hormones, especially in the elderly. DHEA, the most widespread steroid hormone in the body, is produced by the adrenal glands and converted in the body into androgens (male hormones) and estrogens (female hormones). The body prevents DHEA from being converted into excess testosterone, which is why the supplement does not have a muscle-building effect.
According to Mayoclinic.com, DHEA levels begin to fall after age 30, and are reported to be particularly low in people who have type 2 diabetes, kidney disease or AIDS. Though the hormone is naturally occurring, it can be depleted by certain drugs, including insulin, opiates and corticosteroids.
The CRN effort is an attempt to encourage companies to take the appropriate approach in marketing DHEA. "We're not trying to hold anyone up to scrutiny," Mister said. "But one of the things a trade association can do is use its soapbox as an industry representative to nudge the industry in the direction we want to go."
The group also wants to make sure that DHEA remains on the market, where it generates annual sales of approximately $50 million. "We've seen some bills in the states that would restrict DHEA, and a recurring bill from Sen. [Chuck] Grassley of Iowa that would revoke DHEA's exemption on the controlled substances list and put restrictions on its sale," Mister said. "Sometimes people mischaracterize DHEA, but it's not an anabolic steroid and has no safety issues or evidence of abuse."
Mitchell Clute is a Fort Collins, Colo., freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 9/p. 9