Healthy aging: Over 50 (25)
- DHEA: Evidence for anti-aging claims is weak
- Easy bruising: Common as you age
- Human growth hormone (HGH): Does it slow aging?
- see all in Healthy aging: Over 50
Healthy retirement (6)
- Aging: What to expect
- Long term care: Early planning pays off
- Memory loss: 7 tips to improve your memory
- see all in Healthy retirement
Dependent seniors (5)
- Home care services: Questions to ask
- Alzheimer's disease
- Adult day service: What you need to know
- see all in Dependent seniors
DHEA: Evidence for anti-aging claims is weak
If you're considering taking DHEA, get the facts. Research doesn't necessarily support the supplement's anti-aging claims.By Mayo Clinic staff
DHEA is often touted as an anti-aging therapy, used to ward off chronic illness and maintain energy and vigor. However, most research doesn't back up these claims. Here, K. Sreekumaran Nair, M.D., Ph.D., an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., answers questions about DHEA.
What is DHEA?
Your body naturally produces the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the adrenal gland. In turn, DHEA helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. A synthetic version of DHEA is available in pill form. It's sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S., but is available only by prescription in most other countries.
What does DHEA have to do with aging?
Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then slowly fall as you age. Some people suspect that low levels of DHEA cause or contribute to common age-related changes, such as decreasing muscle mass, reduced bone density and cognitive impairment. In theory, taking DHEA supplements to maintain DHEA levels could slow the aging process. Research hasn't proved this to be true, however.
Some research suggests that DHEA can improve hipbone mineral density in both men and women, as well as spine bone mineral density, concentration and memory in women. In addition, a small study found that adding DHEA to exercise in older, frail women helped improve muscle function. However, other research doesn't support these findings.
For example, a 2006 Mayo Clinic study examined use of DHEA supplements in older adults over two years and found no anti-aging benefits. While DHEA levels went up to the same levels found in younger people, there were no differences between those who took DHEA and those who didn't in body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity or quality of life. A 2008 Mayo Clinic study also showed DHEA provided no additional benefit to postmenopausal women who exercised. Additional research on the effect of DHEA on muscle strength and physical function in older adults remains inconclusive.Next page
(1 of 2)
- Chrousos GP. Dehyrdoepiandrosterone and its sulfate. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Aug. 18, 2011.
- Baker WL, et al. Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone on muscle strength and physical function in older adults: A systematic review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2011;59:997.
- Sorwell KG, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone and age-related cognitive decline. Age. 2010;32:61.
- Nair KS, et al. DHEA in elderly women and DHEA or testosterone in elderly men. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2006;355:1647.
- Igwebuike A, et al. Lack of dehydroepiandrosterone effect on a combined endurance and exercise resistance program in postmenopausal women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2008;93:534.
- Weiss EP, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement therapy in older adults: 1- and 2-y effects on bone. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89:1459.
- Jankowski CM, et al. Increases in bone mineral density in response to oral dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in older adults appear to be mediated by serum estrogens. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2008;93:4767.
- Davis SR, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels are associated with more favorable cognitive function in women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2008;93:801.
- DHEA. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Aug. 19, 2011.
- Arnold JT, et al. Does DHEA exert direct effects on androgen and estrogen receptors, and does it promote or prevent prostate cancer? Endocrinology. 2005;146:4565.