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DHEA: Congress Seeks to Control Steroid Precursors


Congress Seeks to Control Steroid Precursors
Source: Yahoo News
Thu Apr 22, 4:00 PM ET
By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -  A congressional committee on Thursday moved to ban steroid-like substances from store shelves but exempted DHEA, a dietary supplement that one lawmaker warned is as dangerous as its popular cousin "andro."

The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved the Anabolic Steroid Control Act, which would make 43 so-called steroid precursors controlled substances instead of over-the-counter supplements.

The bill includes andro, the performance-enhancing substance made famous by baseball slugger Mark McGwire in the 1990s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month sought to crack down on makers of andro, or androstenedione, but did not ban it.

The measure excludes DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone, a widely marketed substance that "is really not any different" than an anabolic steroid, said Rep. Henry Waxman, a committee member.

While DHEA occurs naturally in the body as a hormone, its supplement form is derived from plant chemicals. Like andro, it produces steroidal hormones such as testosterone only after it is metabolized.

Side effects can include testicle shrinkage, breast enlargement and aggressiveness in men. Women can grow facial hair, develop deeper voice and gain weight. It can also increase blood pressure and harm cholesterol levels.

"My concern is that by specifically exempting DHEA, we're sending the wrong signal to the American public. We're telling them that while there may be concerns about andro, DHEA is safe," said Waxman, a California Democrat.

The National Institutes of Health is studying DHEA as an alternative HIV/AIDS therapy. California-based Genelabs Technologies, Inc. is also funding several studies of it as a possible treatment for lupus.

It is often touted as an anti-aging remedy as well as a sexual performance booster because DHEA levels decrease with age.

Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said the AARP, the nation's largest lobbying group for seniors, opposes banning the supplement. AARP did not immediately return a request for comment.

Waxman said evidence shows DHEA is risky but "pressure from the dietary supplement industry to protect a highly profitable product" has kept it out of the legislation.

Barton and other lawmakers said DHEA could be addressed, possibly in a later amendment.

The bill, which would allow the Health and Human Services Secretary to recommend future supplement bans, now moves to Rules Committee before a possible House vote.

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