, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 346-355
Date: 10 Oct 2003

Androgen therapy with dehydroepiandrosterone

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Abstract

The physiological role of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA sulphate (DHEAS) is poorly understood. It depends in a large part on their transformation into testosterone and estradiol. The capacity of DHEA as a neurosteroid, the recent discovery of putative specific DHEA receptors on endothelial and vascular smooth muscle cells, the steady decrease of DHEA production from the 40s on, together with certain human epidemiologic data as well as various beneficial effects of DHA supplementation in rodents have suggested the possibility that this steroid is involved in cognitive and memory, metabolic and vascular, immune and sexual functions and in their aging. However, epidemiologic studies are conflicting, and no well-designed clinical trials have definitely substantiated the role of DHEA in these functions in humans, or the utility and safety of DHEA supplementation. However, beneficial effects seem plausible in women with several conditions according to the results of double-blind placebo-controlled trials: the dose of 30 to 50 mg seems beneficial to the mood, sense of well being and sexual desire and activity of women with adrenal insufficiency. The only long-term trial of supplementation devoted to women over 60 reported significant increases in bone mineral density and, in the 70–79-year-old subgroup, in sexual desire, arousal, activity and satisfaction. The dose of 200 mg also proved to decrease disease activity in systemic lupus erythematosus. Lastly, high DHEA doses have improved mood in various groups of patients of any age and gender with depressive symptoms. The use of DHEA therapy may also be discussed in women of any age when a trial of androgen supplementation seems justified because of the existence of an inhibited sexual desire or a sexual arousal disorder associated with documented androgen deficiency. The rather weak conversion of DHEA into testosterone protects from the risk of overdosing associated with testosterone preparations. However, it must be realized that DHEA is also converted into estradiol, which may be a risk factor for breast or endometrial cancer in postmenopausal women. Unlike women, no consistent beneficial effect has been found for men in the placebo-controlled trials. The present data do not exclude a role of DHEA in other conditions, but this remains to be properly established. This paper includes practical considerations on dosage to be used, contraindications and follow-up.