New Research Highlights Important Role of DHEA in Women's Health

Studies Presented in Press Conference at ENDO 2004

NEW ORLEANS, June 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) -- two hormones that have not been widely studied in women until now -- are useful in treating some health conditions in women and are also markers of other health risks, according to new research being presented this week in New Orleans during ENDO 2004, the 86th Annual Meeting of The Endocrine Society. The new studies highlight an important new area of research and treatment in women's health.

In one study, researchers have determined that DHEA, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, may be a better measurement of sexual dysfunction in young women than testosterone. The findings also indicate that low sexual desire and arousal are common among women.

Dr. Susan Davis and researchers at Jean Hails Research Unit and Monash University in Clayton, Australia assessed blood samples and questionnaires from more than 1,400 women between the ages of 18 and 75. They found that in women under 45 who had scores for desire and arousal in the lowest 10 percent also had scores in the lowest 10 percent for DHEA levels.

"It appears that in young women, having a low level of DHEA is an independent prediction of low sexual desire, arousal and responsiveness," explained Dr. Davis. "We did not find any correlation between other hormone levels and orgasm or pleasure, nor between testosterone levels and questionnaire scores. Additionally, the number of young women who experienced sexual dysfunction was much higher than we anticipated."

The researchers note that this study is important because it demonstrates that young women with low libido who may benefit from testosterone therapy should not simply be identified by measuring testosterone levels.

While DHEA may be a solid measurement of sexual dysfunction in women, research also shows that it may provide health benefits for some groups. Research has demonstrated that people without functioning adrenal glands have lower quality of life scores compared with people whose adrenal glands are normal. At the same time, DHEA levels naturally decline as a person ages. As a result, DHEA therapy in people over 60 may help improve quality of life.

In order to study this possibility, researchers at the Mayo Clinic, led by Dr. Ketan Dhatariya, treated 33 women between 21and 80 whose adrenal gland had been removed or was not functioning with either DHEA or a placebo for 12 weeks. A psychological assessment was conducted on the women both before and after the treatment. Then, following a two-week "wash out" period, the participants took the alternate treatment for another 12 weeks and completed a third assessment.

"Daily DHEA therapy provided measurable health benefits to the women in our study. These women experienced increased sexual arousal, learning efficiency and general health perception," explains Dr. Dhatariya. "These results help us understand the possible benefits that DHEA therapy can have on the health of elderly people."

The authors note that individuals without a functioning adrenal gland who feel that their quality of life is low with other treatments, may be candidates for DHEA therapy.

Despite the possible benefits of DHEA, researchers have also found that too much DHEA could be harmful to some older women, possibly causing death. Dr. Anne Cappola and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine sought to determine the relationship between DHEA and mortality in older women. They measured DHEA levels in 539 women between the ages of 65 and 100 who were involved in the Women's Health and Aging Study.

The researchers tracked vital statistics in the women for five years and found that women with either low or high levels of DHEA had a 60 percent greater risk of dying over a five year period compared with those in the middle level, after accounting for other risk factors for death.

"The high death rate among the women with high levels of DHEA suggests that widespread DHEA supplementation may be harmful in some older women. At the same time, targeted DHEA supplementation may benefit some populations," noted Dr. Cappola.

Founded in 1916, The Endocrine Society is the world's oldest, largest, and most active organization devoted to research on hormones, and the clinical practice of endocrinology. Endocrinologists are specially trained doctors who diagnose, treat and conduct basic and clinical research on complex hormonal disorders such as diabetes, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, obesity, hypertension, cholesterol and reproductive disorders. Today, The Endocrine Society's membership consists of over 11,000 scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students, in more than 80 countries. Together, these members represent all basic, applied, and clinical interests in endocrinology. The Endocrine Society is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. To learn more about the Society, and the field of endocrinology, visit the Society's web site at

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