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Natural Foods Merchandiser

DHEA in the hot seat

The politics of supplements continue to bubble to the surface and create ripples. The most recent controversy revolves around the well-known face of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a supplement with relatively small sales, dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA.

In May, McCain, along with Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and George Allen, R-Va., introduced to Congress an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act that would ban sales of DHEA. According to industry consultant Loren Israelsen, when the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, another amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, was being negotiated, the principal negotiators had agreed that DHEA would be exempted. ?There was a gentleman?s agreement ... that if DHEA became a substance of abuse or misuse, particularly among young kids, all sides agreed to revisit the status of DHEA,? Israelsen said. No new evidence of use or abuse of DHEA has come to light, he said.

The three senators sponsoring the new amendment were not part of the original negotiating group.

DHEA is a steroid produced in the adrenal glands and converted into sex hormones. It can be extracted from the Mexican yam. Proponents of the supplement say it can stimulate the immune system, improve mood, energy, sense of well-being and act as a stress reducer. It is also used to decrease body fat, and some claim it can build muscle; hence the concern that it will be used as a performance-enhancing substance, especially among children.

Israelsen said he is hopeful that industry lobbyists will have a chance to speak and negotiate with the senators. ?I would like this to be an example of how [the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act] is working,? he said, citing past examples, like that of androstenedione, which industry agreed to treat as a controlled substance out of concerns for its misuse. ?That?s how the law is supposed to work. It did,? he said. ?DHEA is another example of how the law is supposed to work. It went through the safety review process. It?s on the market. People that are using DHEA ... are not doing it for muscle building.?

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