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DHEA — The Fountain of Youth?
For reasons that are not totally clear, DHEA (dehyrdoepiandrosterone) has captured the public and scientific imagination as an anti-aging hormone. It has been characterized as the "mother hormone" — a precursor of all steroid hormones, which it is not — that honor belongs to pregnenolone (Figure 1). Yet DHEA has shown sufficient promise as the promised fountain of youth, for which man has endlessly searched, that we need to look at what we know about DHEA, as well as what it can and cannot do.
In 1947, Francis Albright, the father of modern endocrinology (the study of human hormones and hormone-producing glands) predicted that secretion of the male hormone, androgen, would fall with age. He suggested that this should be called the "adrenopause." Subsequently, numerous studies have reported that DHEA and its sulfated form decrease dramatically with age. As Figure 2 shows, DHEA levels drop by 20 to 30% over the lifespan.
Animal and Statistical StudiesAnimal and statistical studies have suggested that DHEA can influence multiple systems affecting aging.(1)(2)(3)
The Immune SystemIn mice, DHEA reverses numerous of the findings of immune system old age. Old mice once again respond to vaccinations and are able to fight off otherwise lethal viral or parasitic infections.
AtherosclerosisDHEA protects rabbits, overfed a fat-laden diet, from developing cholesterol build-up and hardening of their arteries (atherosclerosis). Human studies have been inconclusive, with some suggesting DHEA lowers the chance of heart attacks and another early study in the 1950s indicating that chest pain (angina) could be successfully treated with DHEA.
ObesityIn mice DHEA decreased fat gain without decreasing appetite. This suggested that DHEA may be a metabolic antiobesity agent. Human studies have failed to demonstrate the same effects.
Memory and FunctionDHEA enhanced memory in young and old mice.(4) In nursing home residents, those with better function had higher DHEA levels.(5)
(3) Comments have been made