Six-month oral dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation in early and late postmenopause

Gynecol Endocrinol. 2000 Oct;14(5):342-63. doi: 10.3109/09513590009167703.


The adrenal production of the delta 5-androgens, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate ester dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), declines linearly with aging. The evidence that DHEA or DHEAS administration may alleviate some of the problems related to aging has opened new perspectives for clinical research. The present study aims to investigate the effects of a 6-month DHEA supplementation in early and late postmenopausal women, with normal or overweight body mass index (BMI), on the level of circulating steroids, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), beta-endorphin and gonadotropins, and on the adrenal gland response to dexamethasone suppression and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation. Early postmenopausal women (50-55 years) both normal weight (BMI 20-24, n = 9) and overweight (BMI 26-30, n = 9) and late postmenopausal women (60-65 years) both of normal weight and overweight, were treated with oral DHEA (50 mg/day). Circulating DHEA, DHEAS, 17-OH pregnenolone, progesterone, 17-OH progesterone, allopregnenolone, androstenedione, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, estrone, estradiol, SHBG, cortisol, luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone and beta-endorphin levels were evaluated monthly and a Kupperman score was performed. The product/precursor ratios of adrenal steroid levels were used to assess the relative activities of the adrenal cortex enzymes. Before and after 3 and 6 months of therapy, each women underwent an ACTH stimulating test (10 micrograms i.v. in bolus) after dexamethasone administration (0.5 mg p.o.) to evaluate the response of cortisol, DHEA, DHEAS, androstenedione, 17-OH pregnenolone, allopregnanolone, progesterone and 17-OH progesterone. The between-group differences observed before treatment disappeared during DHEA administration. Levels of 17-OH pregnenolone remained constant during the 6 months. Levels of DHEA, DHEAS, androstenedione, testosterone and dihydrotestosterone increased progressively from the first month of treatment. Levels of estradiol and estrone significantly increased after the first/second month of treatment. Levels of SHBG significantly decreased from the second month of treatment only in overweight late postmenopausal women, while the other groups showed constant levels. Progesterone levels remained constant in all groups, while 17-OH progesterone levels showed a slight but significant increase in all groups. Allopregnanolone and plasma beta-endorphin levels increased progressively and significantly in the four groups, reaching values three times higher than baseline. Levels of cortisol and gonadotropins progressively decreased in all groups. The product/precursor ratios of adrenal steroid levels at the sixth month were used to assess the relative activities of the adrenal cortex enzymes and were compared to those found before therapy. The 17,20-desmolase, sulfatase and/or sulfotransferase, 17,20-lyase and 5 alpha-reductase activities significantly increased, while the 3 beta-hydroxysteroid-oxidoreductase activity did not vary. On the contrary, the 11-hydroxylase and/or 21-hydroxylase activities showed a significant decrease after 6 months of treatment. In basal conditions, dexamethasone significantly suppressed all the adrenal steroids and this suppression was greater after 3 and 6 months of treatment for DHEA, DHEAS and allopregnanolone, while it remained unchanged for other steroids. Before treatment, ACTH stimulus induced a significant response in all parameters; after the treatment, it prompted a greater response in delta 5- and delta 4-androgens, progesterone and 17-OH progesterone, while cortisol responded less in both younger and older normal-weight women. The endometrial thickness did not show significant modifications in any of the groups of postmenopausal women during the 6 months of treatment. Treatment with DHEA was associated with a progressive improvement of the Kupperman score in all groups, with major effects on the vasomotor symptoms in

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Aged
  • Androgens / blood
  • Body Mass Index
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / administration & dosage
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / blood
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / therapeutic use*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood
  • Dexamethasone
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Estrone / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Postmenopause / drug effects
  • Postmenopause / physiology*
  • Progestins / blood
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / analysis
  • Steroids / blood*
  • beta-Endorphin / blood


  • Androgens
  • Progestins
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Steroids
  • Estrone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Estradiol
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • beta-Endorphin
  • Dexamethasone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone