The industry body is calling on consumers to register their opposition to bill S. 1137, introduced on 26 May by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), with senators and representatives.
Dietary supplements containing DHEA, which is derived from a plant in the wild yam family, have been on the market for over 20 years. But this history of use by older Americans to help alleviate the symptoms of a number of health conditions could come to an end if Grassley's bill becomes law, and DHEA becomes a federally-controlled substance.
Grassley refered to DHEA as an "anabolic steroid that can be bought by anyone… that may cause a number of long term physical and psychological effects, including: heart disease, cancer, stroke, liver damage, severe acne, baldness, dramatic mood swings, aggression etc."
NNFA's description could not be more different, however: "DHEA is not an anabolic steroid," it said. "It is a naturally occurring hormone that has a wide range of benefits, including maintaining muscle strength and strong bones, boosting immunity, and improving mood and sleep patterns."
DHEA occurs naturally in the blood of young people. Levels have been shown to peak between the ages of 20 and 30 years, but decrease progressively thereafter. It is known to break down into various sex hormones, including testosterone, which helps build muscle.
Recent investigations into the potential benefits of supplementation include a study published in this February's issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, suggesting that DHEA may be an effective alternative to traditional anti-depressants for sufferers of midlife-onset major or minor depression.
Last year researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that DHEA could play a role in the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome associated with abdominal obesity.
Much more research into DHEA is needed however, as it has also been linked to build-up of cholesterol in the arteries, raising risk of heart disease.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California have also warned athletes against using DHEA to improve their performance, as the testosterone created from DHEA does not stay long in the blood, they said, but instead breaks down into other hormones associated with prostate gland growth.