By Susan Westemeyer
Björn Leukemans' positive test for testosterone was due to a product mistakenly prescribed by a team Predictor-Lotto doctor, according to the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, which further reported that the team has fired the doctor. It was, however, unclear as to why the rider was given the product in the first place.
The newspaper claimed that the doctor, whose name is not given, gave Leukemans the product Prasteron, which contains the steroid DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone). DHEA is similar to testosterone and is on the forbidden list.
"It is terrible thing from a young, dedicated doctor with an impeccable record," an unnamed team source told the newspaper. "However, it was an enormous mistake."
"I have faith in someone who has studied for seven years," Leukemans stated. "I asked him if he could have a problem with this. He said no."
Even if Leukemans depended on the doctor's word, he is still not in the clear. Under the WADA code, an athlete is responsible for what is in his body.
The further question remains why the doctor may have prescribed this drug to Leukemans. DHEA is a natural steroid hormone, which the body converts into androgen and estrogen, hormones which affect sexual development and function. According to the Mayo Clinic, DHEA has been shown to be effective in treating adrenal insufficiency, depression, induction of labour, and lupus (especially in women).
Pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck & Co., Inc. says that "DHEA's effects on the body are similar to those of testosterone." It adds, "Theoretically, DHEA may result in breast enlargement in men and hairiness in women and may stimulate the growth of certain prostate and breast cancers, but these effects have not been substantiated," and specifically warns, "DHEA should not be used by children attempting to build muscle or enhance athletic performance."
DHEA is commonly used in the bodybuilding scene, with frequent references to the fact that athletes use it to boost their testosterone levels. However, scientific studies are unclear on this point. The Mayo Clinic says that "DHEA can, in theory, raise testosterone and estrogen levels in your body."
Predictor-Lotto did not respond to Cyclingnews' request for a comment.