Objective: Patients with primary adrenocortical failure (Addison's disease) have abnormally low levels of DHEA and androgens relative to age. To define a suitable dose, the effect of oral dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) replacement therapy in women with Addison's disease (n = 9) was evaluated.
Design and measurements: DHEA was administered as a daily oral dose of either 50 mg (n = 5) or 200 mg (n = 4). Blood sampling and measurements of insulin sensitivity (as measured with euglycemic insulin clamp technique) and body composition (as measured by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) were performed before and during DHEA treatment and at a 3-month follow up.
Results: DHEA and DHEA(S) levels were restored to normal in those patients receiving 50 mg whereas DHEA(S) level was slightly above the normal reference value in those receiving 200 mg. Circulating levels of androgens (androstenedione, testosterone and testosterone/SHBG ratio) were normalized in all patients. A slight rise in IGF-1 levels was seen in both groups as was a decrease in the levels of low and high density lipoproteins. No effect on blood glucose levels or insulin sensitivity was seen and no change of body composition was observed. No serious side-effects were seen, but some of the patients experienced increased apocrine sweat secretion (n = 7), itchy scalp (n = 2) and acne (n = 7), all of which were reversed when DHEA was discontinued.
Conclusion: A daily replacement dose of 50 mg of DHEA results in near physiological levels of DHEA, DHEA(S) androstenedione and testosterone in women with Addison's disease, without severe side-effects.