Do DHEA supplements have a role in hormonal replacement therapy and influence longevity?
I asked the opinions of the world's top researchers:
Michael Bennett, M.D., from the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, has been researching DHEA for 9 years, especially its effects on the immune system of rodents.
DHEA does not have the bad effects that androgenic steroids, such as those used by some body builders, have. It is a precursor to estrogen which can possibly lead to breast enlargement in men if used in high doses. In women, high doses could pose the risk of an overabundance in androgens leading to such side effects as hirsutism (excess body hair). Many strains of mice have lived longer when supplemented with this steroid.
I'm 60 years of age. If my blood test showed that my level was low, I would consider taking low doses such as 25 mg to bring my levels higher. However, I would prefer being part of an experiment to test the effects of low-dose DHEA.
Etienne-Emile Baulieu, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (similar to the US NIH), Department of hormone research, Paris, France.
This is my favorite theory. We are studying the possible beneficial effects of re-establishing a "young" level of DHEAS in people over 60 years of age. The comparison to estrogen replacement therapy after menopause is a good one.
However, we need long-term studies to make sure that there are no negative effects on hormone responsive tumors such as prostate and breast. We are currently doing studies on DHEA's role in cerebral function, cardiovascular system, bones, muscles, skin, metabolic (lipids, glucose) and hormonal (pituitary, insulin) parameters. We expect important influences by DHEA on most of these functions.
I would consider taking 25 mg or 50 mg daily if my blood levels were found to be low.
Peter J. Hornsby, Ph.D., from the Huffington Center on Aging, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, is an expert on the biosynthetic aspects of DHEA.
We have to do some long-term human experiments. The longest published one is 6 months. That's not long enough for us to know what would happen if we took it for 10 or 20 years. Our knowledge about DHEA is basically what it was a couple of decades ago with estrogen. Even after twenty or so years of research on estrogen, we still don't know its full effects.
Moreover, we really can't extrapolate from rodents to humans because they have very little circulating DHEA(S) levels. Although they do make it, they do so locally in the brain and in gonadal tissues. When DHEA is given to rodents, any dose is basically a pharmacological dose, not a physiological dose.
Maria Majewska, Ph.D., Medications Development Division, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Rockville, Maryland.
While we are waiting for more data, (Dr. Baulieu's group is doing clinical studies at this time in France), the existing evidence already suggests that DHEA(S) replacement may be a safe and effective means of improving health and the quality of life during aging. However, we have yet to learn the right dosages.
John Nestler, M.D., Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. (As reported in the Annals NY Acad Sci 774: ix-xi, 1995.)
The clinical issues that will have to be addressed include optimal DHEA dosage, form and amount, route of administration, and delineation of side effect profile. It is important that such studies be conducted before DHEA is casually administered to men and women, as some physicians in private practice are currently doing, because DHEA administration may be associated with some untoward effects. For example, DHEA can be converted to potent androgens, such as testosterone, which would masculinize women. Similarly, whether DHEA administration is associated with any change in prostatic volume or risk for prostatic cancer in men is currently unknown.