Orlando Magic Player Blames DHEA for Failed Steroid Test
Orlando Magic Rashard Lewis violated the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program after testing positive for “elevated testosterone levels” according to an official NBA statement. Lewis’ first violation of the league’s SPED policy (steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents) automatically resulted in a 10-game suspension. The suspension corresponds to a loss of $1.6 million of Lewis’ $18 million annual salary.
The NBA has not released specific details about the positive anti-doping test result other than stating Rashard Lewis had “elevated testosterone levels.” However, it is unlikely that the anti-doping protocol actually measured “testosterone levels” typically done through a blood test. The NBA/NBPA does not utilize blood testing as a component of their anti-doping protocols. Most likely, Lewis failed the urinary testosterone:epitestosterone ratio (T:E ratio) protocol.
The T:E ratio is a “ratio” of urinary testosterone and epitestosterone metabolites and NOT an absolute measurement of testosterone levels. A ratio that exceeds 4:1 or 6:1 depending on the sporting body is considered putative evidence of exogenous anabolic steroid use. It only measure suspect alterations in steroid metabolism. Testosterone levels can be low or normal even when the T:E ratio is excessive.
Rashard Lewis blamed the positive steroid test on his inadvertent use of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) that was present in a smoothie powder he consumed.
"First and foremost I take full responsibility for the situation and accept the corresponding penalty,” said Lewis. “Toward the end of the season, I took an over-the-counter supplement which at the time I did not realize included a substance banned by the NBA.”
Lewis admitted using dietary supplements throughout his career to increase his energy levels and to help him gain weight.
"I've taken over-the-counter supplements throughout my career," Lewis said. "It's a long season and I take stuff you get from health stores -- things to keep your immune system up, help your energy level, stuff like that. Early in my career, I was real thin and drank the shakes to try to put on weight."
Most experts consider it unlikely that DHEA would cause a positive T:E ratio result. DHEA is converted to testosterone at a rate of less than 1.5%. Most studies have not shown an elevated T:E ratio from low to moderate DHEA supplementation that would be considered a violation under the NBA/NBPA anti-drug program.
It is nonetheless plausible that DHEA is the culprit in Rashard Lewis’ positive steroid test. A 1999 study entitled “Oral Dehydroepiandrosterone Supplementation Can Increase the Testosterone/Epitestosterone Ratio” provides support for Lewis’ claim. Drug testing expert Larry Bowers reported that one of four subjects had a dose-dependent increase in the T:E ratio in excess of 6:1 after consuming 50mg, 100mg and 150mg of DHEA.
"Look at me, I'm still skinny as hell. Does it look like I take steroids?," Lewis asked using his lack of a bodybuilder’s physique as proof of his innocence.
The NBA/NBPA SPED policy considers DHEA a prohibited steroid no different than Dianabol, Anadrol, or Deca Durabolin. The NBA is not alone. Most other sporting leagues, including all sports that have adopted the WADA Anti-Doping Code, also consider DHEA a prohibited steroid.
DHEA is perfectly legal for consumers in the United States to purchase and consume as a dietary supplement. DHEA is explicitly exempted from legally being classified as an anabolic steroid under the Anabolic Steroid Control Act.
The legal status of DHEA and other performance-enhancing substances as a “dietary supplements” is confusing to many athletes who are unable to reconcile this with “legal” supplements being “prohibited” in sports.
Travis Tygart of the United States Anti-Doping Agency believes the solution is to criminalize all dietary supplements that are banned in sports. In other words, all substances prohibited in sports should also be prohibited as dietary supplements under the criminal justice system to eliminate any confusion among athletes.
“Rashard Lewis suspended for violating Anti-Drug Program,” August 6, 2009
“Oral Dehydroepiandrosterone Supplementation Can Increase the Testosterone/Epitestosterone Ratio,” Clinical Chemistry. 1999;45:295-297
By Millard Baker