Objective: Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a precursor for both oestrogens and androgens. Its marked decline with ageing may influence age-related changes in tissues influenced by sex hormones. The aim of this study was to determine the effects of DHEA replacement on bone mineral density (BMD) and body composition in elderly women and men with low serum DHEA sulphate (DHEAS) levels.
Design: Prospective 6 month trial of oral DHEA replacement, 50 mg/day.
Patients: Experimental subjects were 10 women and eight men, aged 73 +/- 1 years. Control subjects were 10 women and eight men, aged 74 +/- 1 years.
Measurements: BMD, body composition, serum markers of bone turnover, serum lipids and lipoproteins, oral glucose tolerance, serum IGF-I, total serum oestrogens and testosterone.
Results: BMD of the total body and lumbar spine increased (mean +/- SEM; 1.6 +/- 0.6% and 2.5 +/- 0.8%, respectively; both P < or = 0.05), fat mass decreased (- 1.3 +/- 0.4 kg; P < 0.01) and fat-free mass increased (0.9 +/- 0.4 kg; P < or = 0. 05) in response to DHEA replacement. DHEA replacement also resulted in increases in serum IGF-I (from 108 +/- 8 to 143 +/- 7 microg/l; P < 0.01) and total serum testosterone concentrations (from 10.7 +/- 1.2 to 15.6 +/- 1.8 nmol/l in the men and from 2.1 +/- 0.2 to 4.5 +/- 0.4 nmol/l in the women; both P < or = 0.05).
Conclusions: The results provide preliminary evidence that DHEA replacement in those elderly women and men who have very low serum DHEAS levels can partially reverse age-related changes in fat mass, fat-free mass, and BMD, and raise the possibility that increases in IGF-I and/or testosterone play a role in mediating these effects of DHEA.