Supplement firms pledge responsible marketing for DHEA

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dhea, Testosterone, Crn

Members of the supplement trade body Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) have pledged to follow certain guidelines when marketing products containing the naturally occurring steroid hormone DHEA, in a move designed to tighten industry self-regulation.

The voluntary marketing program recommends that companies do not market DHEA products as having an anabolic steroid effect, and do not market them to under 18 year-olds.

CRN has long campaigned for the responsible marketing of DHEA, maintaining that DHEA products positioned as having the same performance-enhancing effect as anabolic steroids damage the industry by misleading consumers and inviting claims of product abuse.

“It’s disturbing to see some of the ads in magazines or online that promote DHEA as if it were a drug or anabolic steroid, when the fact is existing research has not demonstrated that kind of effect,”​ said Steve Mister, CRN president and CEO.

“Advertising that overpromises results leads to consumer confusion and casts a negative shadow over the entire industry.”

Steroids vs supplements

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) - a precursor to the hormone testosterone - 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.

The body regulates the conversion of DHEA in order to maintain normal hormone levels. As a result, there is no excess production of testosterone as the body ignores ‘surplus’ DHEA.

In contrast, anabolic steroids work by producing extra testosterone in order to increase muscle size and strength.

Because anabolic steroids are associated with abuse, addition and side effects, a number of steroid precursors have been placed on the Controlled Substances List under the Anabolic Steroid Control Act enacted by Congress in 2004.

CRN said that Congress “specifically and intentionally” ​omitted DHEA from that list.

At the end of last year, a bill was introduced to Congress that proposed to amend the Controlled Substances Act by preventing minors access to DHEA and penalizing those who would provide DHEA to minors.

At the time, CRN had opposed Bill S 2470 – the so-called DHEA Abuse Reduction Act of 2007 – on the grounds that there is no evidence that DHEA is being abused by minors nor that DHEA works as a performance-enhancing product in young healthy adults.

DHEA benefits

Available science has identified benefits of DHEA supplementation in people experiencing the normal decline in hormone levels that come with age, or in people that have otherwise compromised hormone levels.

However, no benefits have been found for under 18 year-olds, prompting this week’s voluntary marketing pledge by CRN members not to target this age group in their product marketing or advertising.

In older individuals, DHEA supplements are used to help maintain immune and cognitive functions, to elevate mood, improve sleep, maintain strong bones and normalize glucose metabolism.

Dietary supplements containing DHEA (derived from a plant in the wild yam family) have been available in the US for more than 20 years. According to Nutrition Business Journal, ​US annual sales of DHEA are $49m.

To access CRN’s ‘backgrounder’ on DHEA, which includes scientific information, click here.

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