It has been postulated that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate ester, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), the major secretory products of the human adrenal gland, may be discriminators of life expectancy and aging. We examined the relation of base-line circulating DHEAS levels to subsequent 12-year mortality from any cause, from cardiovascular disease, and from ischemic heart disease in a population-based cohort of 242 men aged 50 to 79 years at the start of the study. Mean DHEAS levels decreased with age and were also significantly lower in men with a history of heart disease than in those without such a history. In men with no history of heart disease at base line, the age-adjusted relative risk associated with a DHEAS level below 140 micrograms per deciliter was 1.5 (P not significant) for death from any causes, 3.3 (P less than 0.05) for death from cardiovascular disease, and 3.2 (P less than 0.05) for death from ischemic heart disease. In multivariate analyses, an increase in DHEAS level of 100 micrograms per deciliter was associated with a 36 percent reduction in mortality from any causes (P less than 0.05) and a 48 percent reduction in mortality from cardiovascular disease (P less than 0.05), after adjustment for age, systolic blood pressure, serum cholesterol level, obesity, fasting plasma glucose level, cigarette smoking status, and personal history of heart disease. Our conclusions are limited by the single determination of DHEAS levels, but the data suggest that the DHEAS concentration is independently and inversely related to death from any cause and death from cardiovascular disease in men over age 50.