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Antiaging Hormone a Bust, Study Shows

Study Shows DHEA Does Little to Push Back the Clock
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 18, 2006 -- For years, the steroid hormone DHEA has been marketed and sold over the counter as an antiaging supplement, but new research shows that elderly people who take it derive little benefit.

The study, led by researchers from the Mayo Clinic, is one of the largest and longest ever to examine DHEA's effect on key markers of agingaging, such as muscle strength and physical performance.

Older men and women who took the steroid hormone for two years showed no measurable improvements in areas including measurements of body fat, physical performance, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life compared with older people given a placebo.

The findings are published in the Oct. 19 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

"This research is pretty definitive," researcher K. Sreekumaran Nair, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "We found no evidence that DHEA has an antiaging effect."

Fountain of Youth?

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), is a hormone that can be converted by the body to the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. Levels of DHEA are naturally very high among teens and young adults but begin to decrease by the early 30s. The typical 70-year-old has DHEA levels only about 20% as high as he or she had in the early 20s.

The thinking has been that restoring DHEA levels to those that naturally occur in younger adults may help slow the aging process and delay diseases of aging, such as heart diseaseheart disease, diabetesdiabetes, and cancercancer.

There is some clinical evidence to back up this claim, including one study published in 2004, which showed reductions in abdominal fat and improvements in insulin sensitivity among older people who took DHEA for six months.

But that study was much smaller and shorter than the newly reported trial, which included 87 men and 57 women aged 60 or older treated with DHEA, low-dose testosterone, or placebo for two years.

DHEA was given at doses designed to restore hormone levels to those typical for men and women in their 20s. The men receiving low-dose testosterone were treated with 5 milligrams per day of the hormone.

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