July 09, 2001


What's new in DHEA and aging? Find out in this easy-to-navigate collection of MEDLINE abstracts put together by the editors of Medscape Diabetes & Endocrinology. [Medscape Diabetes & Endocrinology, 2000. © 2000 Medscape, Inc.]

Morales AJ, Haubrich RH, Hwang JY, Asakura H, Yen SS.
Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1998;49(4):421-432.

Objective: The biological role of the adrenal sex steroid precursors--DHEA and DHEA sulphate (DS) and their decline with ageing remains undefined. We observed previously that administration of a 50 daily dose of DHEA for 3 months to age-advanced men and women resulted in an elevation (10%) of serum levels of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) accompanied by improvement of self-reported physical and psychological well-being. These findings led us to assess the effect of a larger dose (100 mg) of DHEA for a longer duration (6 months) on circulating sex steroids, body composition (DEXA) and muscle strength (MedX).
Subjects and Design: Healthy non-obese age-advanced (50-65 yrs of age) men (n = 9) and women (n = 10) were randomized into a double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over trial. Sixteen subjects completed the one-year study of six months of placebo and six months of 100 mg oral DHEA daily.
Measurements: Fasting early morning blood samples were obtained. Serum DHEA, DS, sex steroids, IGF-I, IGFBP-1, IGFBP-3, growth hormone binding protein (GHBP) levels and lipid profiles as well as body composition (by DEXA) and muscle strength (by MedX testing) were measured at baseline and after each treatment.
Results: Basal serum levels of DHEA, DS, androstenedione (A), testosterone (T) and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) were at or below the lower range of young adult levels. In both sexes, a 100 mg daily dose of DHEA restored serum DHEA levels to those of young adults and serum DS to levels at or slightly above the young adult range. Serum cortisol levels were unaltered, consequently the DS/cortisol ratio was increased to pubertal (10:1) levels. In women, but not in men, serum A, T and DHT were increased to levels above gender-specific young adult ranges. Basal SHBG levels were in the normal range for men and elevated in women, of whom 7 of 8 were on oestrogen replacement therapy. While on DHEA, serum SHBG levels declined with a greater (P = 0.02) response in women (-40 +/- 8%; P = 0.002) than in men (-5 +/- 4%; P < 0.02). Relative to baseline, DHEA administration resulted in an elevation of serum IGF-I levels in men (16 +/- 6%, P = 0.04) and in women (31 +/- 12%, P = 0.02). Serum levels of IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-3 were unaltered but GHBP levels declined in women (28 +/- 6%; P = 0.02) not in men. In men, but not in women, fat body mass decreased 1.0 +/- 0.4 kg (6.1 +/- 2.6%, P = 0.02) and knee muscle strength 15.0 +/- 3.3% (P = 0.02) as well as lumbar back strength 13.9 +/- 5.4% (P = 0.01) increased. In women, but not in men, an increase in total body mass of 1.4 +/- 0.4 kg (2.1 +/- 0.7%; P = 0.02) was noted. Neither gender had changes in basal metabolic rate, bone mineral density, urinary pyridinoline cross-links, fasting insulin, glucose, cortisol levels or lipid profiles. No significant adverse effects were observed.
Conclusions: A daily oral 100 mg dose of DHEA for 6 months resulted in elevation of circulating DHEA and DS concentrations and the DS/cortisol ratio. Biotransformation to potent androgens near and slightly above the range of their younger counterparts occurred in women with no detectable change in men. Given this hormonal milieu, an increase in serum IGF-I levels was observed in both genders but dimorphic responses were evident in fat body mass and muscle strength in favour of men. These differences in response to DHEA administration may reflect a gender specific response to DHEA and/or the presence of confounding factor(s) in women such as oestrogen replacement therapy.

Barnhart KT, Freeman E, Grisso JA, Rader DJ, Sammel M, Kapoor S, Nestler JE.
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999;84(11):3896-3902.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an androgenic steroid hormone, exhibits an age-related decline. Perimenopausal women have only approximately 50% of peak DHEA levels. Despite limited scientific data, DHEA has gained recognition as a dietary supplement to reduce the symptoms of aging and improve well-being. This randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial examined the effects of 50 mg/day of oral DHEA supplementation, for 3 months, on 60 perimenopausal women with complaints of altered mood and well-being. Changes in the serum endocrine profile of women in the DHEA group were significantly greater than the placebo group, including a 242% [95% confidence interval (CI) +60.1, +423.9] increase in DHEAS, a 94.8% (95% CI +34.2, +155.4) increase in testosterone, and a 13.2% (95% CI -27.88, +0.5) decline in cortisol compared to baseline. Women receiving DHEA had a 10.1% (95% CI -15.0, -5.1) decline in high-density lipoprotein and an 18.1% (95% CI -32.2, -3.9) decline in Lp(a)! from baseline, but these declines did not significantly differ from women who received placebo. Women receiving DHEA did not have any improvements significantly greater than placebo in the severity of perimenopausal symptoms, mood, dysphoria, libido, cognition, memory, or well-being. DHEA supplementation significantly affects the endocrine profile, may affect the lipid profile, but does not improve perimenopausal symptoms or well-being compared to placebo.

Arlt W, Haas J, Callies F, Reincke M, Hubler D, Oettel M, Ernst M, Schulte HM, Allolio B.
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999;84(6):2170-2176.

The most abundant human steroids, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate ester DHEAS, may have a multitude of beneficial effects, but decline with age. DHEA possibly prevents immunosenescence, and as a neuroactive steroid it may influence processes of cognition and memory. Epidemiological studies revealed an inverse correlation between DHEAS levels and the incidence of cardiovascular disease in men, but not in women. To define a suitable dose for DHEA substitution in elderly men we studied pharmacokinetics and biotransformation of orally administered DHEA in 14 healthy male volunteers (mean age, 58.8 +/- 5.1 yr; mean body mass index, 25.5 +/- 1.5 kg/m2) with serum DHEAS concentrations below 4.1 micromol/L (1500 ng/mL). Diurnal blood sampling was performed on 3 occasions in a single dose, randomized, cross-over design (oral administration of placebo, 50 mg DHEA, or 100 mg DHEA). The intake of 50 mg DHEA led to an increase in serum DHEAS to mean levels of young adult men, whereas 100 mg DHEA induced supraphysiological concentrations [placebo vs. 50 mg DHEA vs. 100 mg DHEA; area under the curve (AUC) 0-12 h (mean +/- SD) for DHEA, 108 +/- 22 vs. 252 +/- 45 vs. 349 +/- 72 nmol/L x h; AUC 0-12 h for DHEAS, 33 +/- 9 vs. 114 +/- 19 vs. 164 +/- 36 micromol/L x h]. Serum testosterone and dihydrotestosterone remained unchanged after DHEA administration. In contrast, 17beta-estradiol and estrone significantly increased in a dose-dependent manner to concentrations still within the upper normal range for men [placebo vs. 50 mg DHEA vs. 100 mg DHEA; AUC 0-12 h for 17beta-estradiol, 510 +/- 198 vs. 635 +/- 156 vs. 700 +/- 209 pmol/L x h (P < 0.0001); AUC 0-12 h for estrone, 1443 +/- 269 vs. 2537 +/- 434 vs. 3254 +/- 671 pmol/L x h (P < 0.0001)]. In conclusion, 50 mg DHEA seems to be a suitable substitution dose in elderly men, as it leads to serum DHEAS concentrations usually measured in young healthy adults. The DHEA-induced increase in circulating estrogens may contribute to beneficial effects of DHEA in men.

Mazza E, Maccario M, Ramunni J, Gauna C, Bertagna A, Barberis AM, Patroncini S, Messina M, Ghigo E.
J Endocrinol Invest. 1999;22(9):681-687.

Sex and age are the major determinants of serum levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S): they are about twice in men than in women and show a progressive reduction from the end of the puberty to aging in both sexes. It has been reported that DHEA-S levels are also negatively influenced by insulin. Moreover, DHEA-S levels reduction has been associated to increased risk for cardiovascular disease, which connotes hyperinsulinemic states, such as obesity. We have evaluated serum levels of DHEA-S and insulin as function of age and body mass index (BMI) in 376 adult women (age 18.1-89.6 yrs, median 42.2; BMI 15.7-57.8 kg/m2, median 32.7) by multiple regression and piecewise regression analysis. Insulin levels positively associated to BMI (p=0.000002) and DHEA-S levels negatively associated with age (p=0.000001). Considering the whole population, DHEA-S levels were related positively with BMI (p=0.0013) independently of age. DHEA-S were also directly related to insulin levels independently of age (p=0.042), but this association disappeared after correction for BMI. Piecewise regression analysis did not reveal a threshold level for the increase of BMI (p=0.0004). Interestingly, DHEA-S levels and BMI were positively associated before but not after menopause. Taking into account only obese population, (no.=143, age 18.7-67.3 yrs, mean 39.0, median 39.4) DHEA-S levels were again related negatively with age and positively with BMI, while were unrelated with waist to hip ratio (p=0.391). Our data show that increasing body mass and insulin secretion is not associated to DHEA-S reduction in women. This evidence suggests that DHEA-S is unlikely implicated in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease in obese women.

Flynn MA, Weaver-Osterholtz D, Sharpe-Timms KL, Allen S, Krause G.
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999;84(5):1527-1533.

Because so much medical and media attention has been drawn to the alleged benefits of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate ester (DHEAS), it is important to evaluate the effects of replacement therapy objectively using double blind, cross-over, randomized research methodology. In this 9-month study, healthy older men (n = 39) received replacement dose DHEA. Lean body mass, blood hematology, chemistry and endocrine values, as well as urological and psychological data were measured. Data showed some mild and temporary, but significant, changes during oral use of 100 mg DHEA for 3 months compared with placebo taken for 3 months. Body composition did not change during the 6 months of treatment, nor did any urological parameters. Concomitant with the endocrine changes, some small but, significant, variations in blood values (blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, uric acid, alanine transaminase, cholesterol, high density lipoprotein, and potassium) were found. After cessation of DHEA and placebo, followed by 3 months of no treatment, all values previously found to be altered returned to entry baseline. Well publicized effects of the drug reported by others, such as a sense of well-being or improved sexual function, were not found in this study.

Tilvis RS, Kahonen M, Harkonen M.
Aging (Milano). 1999;11(1):30-34.

Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) was measured in a five-year follow-up study of random persons of three age cohorts (75-, 80-, and 85-years, N = 571) in order to investigate its associations with clinical diseases and their risk indicators, as well as its prognostic significance in old age. DHEAS was higher in men (3.1 mumol/L) than in women (1.9 mumol/L) in the 75-year age group. It decreased in men up 85 years. Compared to healthy men, DHEAS was lower in men with a history of or manifest vascular diseases, presence of dementia, diabetes mellitus, malignancies and musculoskeletal disorders, but was similar in all these disease groups. No differences were found in women. DHEAS did not relate to cardioechographic findings, cardiovascular risk factors or predictors of impaired survival prognosis. After controlling for age, DHEAS tended to be lower in the non-surviving than in the surviving men (2.28 mumol/L vs 2.65 mumol/L, p = 0.065). After controlling for disease, DHEAS did not predict increased risk of all-cause or cardiovascular mortality during the 5-year follow-up. In this study, gender differences in DHEAS persisted up to the age of 75 years. Low plasma DHEAS appears to be a secondary phenomenon rather than a specific risk indicator of common diseases in old age.

Callies F.
Steroids. 2000;65(2):98-102.

Oral dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) replacement therapy may have a multitude of potential beneficial effects and exerts its action mainly via peripheral bioconversion to androgens (and estrogens). A daily dose of 50-mg DHEA has been shown by us and others to restore low endogenous serum DHEA concentrations to normal youthful levels followed by an increase in circulating androgens and estrogens. As the hepatic first-pass effect may lead to a non physiological metabolism of DHEA after oral ingestion we studied the influence of two single DHEA doses (50 and 100 mg) on the excretion of steroid metabolites in 14 elderly males [age 58.8+/-5.1 years (mean +/- SEM)] with endogenous DHEAS levels <1500 ng/ml and in 9 healthy females (age 23.3+/-4.1 years) with transient suppression of endogenous DHEA secretion induced by dexamethasone (dex) pretreatment (4x0.5 mg/day/4 days). Urinary steroid profiles in the elderly males were compared to the steroid patterns found in 15 healthy young men (age 28.9+/-5.1 years). In the females the results were compared to their individual baseline excretion without dex pretreatment. Urinary steroid determinations were carried out by semiautomatic capillary gas-liquid chromatography. In both genders DHEA administration induced significant increases in urinary DHEA (females: baseline vs. 50 mg vs. 100 mg: 361+/-131 vs. 510+/-264 vs. 1541+/-587 microg/day; males: placebo vs. 50 mg vs. 100 mg: 434+/-154 vs. 1174+/-309 vs. 4751+/-1059 microg/day) as well as in the major DHEA metabolites androsterone (A) and etiocholanolone (Et). Fifty mg DHEA led to an excretion of DHEA and its metabolites only slightly above baseline levels found in young females and in young men, respectively, whereas 100 mg induced clearly supraphysiological values. After 50 mg DHEA the ratios of urinary DHEA metabolites (A/DHEA, Et/DHEA) were not significantly different between elderly males vs. young male volunteers and young healthy females versus their individual baseline levels. In conclusion, an oral dose of 30 to 50 mg DHEA restores a physiological urinary steroid profile in subjects with DHEA deficiency without evidence for a relevant hepatic first-pass effect on urinary metabolites.