15 April 2011

Doubts cast on anti-aging supplement

The hormone supplement DHEA is promoted as a fountain of youth, but there's no good evidence that it boosts memory, sexual function or general well-being in postmenopausal women


The hormone supplement DHEA may be promoted as a fountain of youth, but there's no good evidence that it boosts memory, sexual function or general well-being in postmenopausal women, a new research review concludes.

"Our data would suggest that there is basically no benefit for postmenopausal women to use DHEA supplements to improve sexual function, well-being, cognitive performance, or for prevention of diabetes/insulin resistance or to lower cholesterol levels," lead researcher Dr Susan Davis said.

"In the 1990s, DHEA was considered to be the elixir of youth, with preliminary studies suggesting benefits," said Dr Davis, the director of the women's health research program at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

But more recently, she said, some larger, longer-term trials have found no benefits.

The studies

A few earlier studies found, for example, that DHEA might improve older women's memory. But they included only a small number of women, and lasted only two to four weeks.

The largest study to look at the question a 2008 trial that followed 115 women for one year found no evidence that DHEA benefitted memory or other cognitive abilities.

Dr Davis and her colleagues reported similar results online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, i.e., the bulk of the evidence from randomised controlled trials was negative when it came to DHEA for managing sexual dysfunction, mood, cholesterol and insulin levels.

On the other hand, Dr Davis noted, some trials have suggested that DHEA might help slow postmenopausal bone density loss. The researchers looked at 10 studies that have examined at the effects of DHEA on bone density over 6 months to 2 years, and the majority did show some positive effects.

However, Dr Davis said, it's not known whether DHEA can lower postmenopausal fracture risk.

The most common side effects of DHEA appear to be acne and excess hair growth on the face and body, Dr Davis said. Researchers do not yet know what negative health effects, if any, might come from long-term use.

(Reuters Health, Amy Norton, April 2011)

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