Elevated levels of DHEA found

Updated: March 18, 2009, 11:04 AM ET
Reuters

PARIS -- Elevated amounts of an anti-aging pill that is a banned steroid were found in almost 15 percent of French athletes tested by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).

The agency said Wednesday there would be no disciplinary proceedings despite the discovery of traces of the supplement, called DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), since these were not official doping tests.

"It is the first time we do this kind of test and it is more important to tell them to stop endangering their health than to punish them," AFLD president Pierre Bordry said at a news conference.

DHEA is a natural steroid hormone produced from cholesterol by the adrenal glands and is chemically similar to testosterone and estrogen and is easily converted into those hormones.

A total of 138 athletes competing in soccer, rugby, cycling and athletics were tested, and traces of DHEA were found in hair samples of 18. Three of those had elevated levels of testosterone, with one showing raised levels of both.

Had the tests been official, the athletes showing traces of DHEA would have failed the tests and could have faced bans.

Bordry said the fact so many traces had shown up in out-of-competition tests suggested there could be organized doping going on that was not being picked up in competition tests.

Soccer was the most affected, with seven out of 32 players (21.8 percent) showing traces of DHEA or raised levels of testosterone. In cycling, four of 37 athletes showed raised levels; in rugby, five out of 30; and in track and field, three out of 22.

The AFLD could not conduct more tests in 2008 because it costs about 500 euros ($657) per test, said Bordry.

"There are doping patterns that seem to be organized so that we cannot find anything during a competition," Bordry told Reuters.

"It is the impression we have. I have been surprised by the levels [of DHEA] and by the fact that they were more or less the same. It is not a coincidence, it means that there are some people advising the athletes [to take DHEA]."