Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone on muscle strength and physical function in older adults: a systematic review

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011 Jun;59(6):997-1002. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03410.x. Epub 2011 Jun 7.


Objectives: To evaluate studies that have assessed the effect of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation on body composition and physical performance in older adults.

Design: A systematic review of the medical literature identified from searches of databases, reference lists, and recent conference proceedings with qualitative assessment of the desired end points.

Setting: Not applicable.

Participants: Adults aged 50 and older.

Interventions: Oral DHEA supplement with or without concomitant exercise.

Measurements: Muscle strength, physical function, and physical performance.

Results: Of the 155 eligible studies, eight (n=661 participants) met inclusion criteria. The studies differed in their included populations, duration of follow-up, and interventions (e.g., exercise). Seven studies examined measures of muscle strength. One study showed improvement in handgrip strength, one showed improvement in chest press, two showed improvement in leg press, and one showed improvement in knee extension and flexion. Nevertheless, similar numbers of studies had negative results for each of these endpoints. Five studies examined measures of physical function and performance. Only one study showed improvement in a composite score measuring physical performance; the rest reported no differences between DHEA and control for any end point.

Conclusion: Overall, the benefit of DHEA on muscle strength and physical function in older adults remains inconclusive. Some measures of muscle strength may improve, although consensus was not reached. DHEA does not appear to routinely benefit measures of physical function or performance. Further large clinical trials are necessary to better identify the clinical role of DHEA supplementation in this population.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / pharmacology*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobility Limitation
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Sex Factors


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate