DHEA, a steroid hormone that
has been hyped as a miracle drug to prevent aging, can help women
with adrenal insufficiency increase their sex drive, according to a new
study in the Friday issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study by several German hospitals found
that DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, improves the well-being and sexuality
of women with adrenal insufficiencies. It is not clear whether DHEA offers
similar benefits for men.
The adrenal glands, located above the kidneys,
produce hormones, including DHEA. DHEA is the most common weak male steroid
hormone found in the bodies of both men and women.
"Our findings suggest that dehydroepiandrosterone
should become part of the hormone-replacement regimen in women with adrenal
insufficiency," writes Dr. Wiebke Arlt, lead author of the study and an
endocrinologist at Medical University Hospital in Wuerzburg, Germany.
It still is unclear how DHEA works in humans.
The researchers gave 50 milligrams of DHEA and a placebo to 24 women. They
found that those taking DHEA showed a significant increase in their frequency
of sexual thoughts, sexual interest, and satisfaction with the mental and
physical aspects of their sexuality.
The researchers said DHEA likely has a direct
effect on the nervous system, an increase in the synthesis of peripheral
androgen (a male sex hormone), or both.
"Their findings are not surprising," said Dr.
Robert Lahita, chief of rheumatology at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York.
"DHEA improves the well-being and sex drive in the elderly. And it has
few side effects."
Lahita said DHEA deficiencies affect the
immune system and cognition. While DHEA has been heralded
by some as an anti-aging medication, there is no evidence it works to prevent
aging, he said.
According to the American Arthritis Foundation,
DHEA occurs naturally in mammals. A mild androgen produced by the adrenal
glands, DHEA is used by the body to make other hormones, such as testosterone
and estrogen. Some people take DHEA supplements, which come from
extracts of wild Mexican yams, to relieve pain, inflammation or fatigue.
In an editorial accompanying the new study,
Dr. Wolfgang Oelkers, a physician at Klinikum Benjamin Franklin in Berlin,
cautions about overusing DHEA.
Oelkers said, "At present, there is justification
for administering dehydroepiandrosterone to patients with adrenal insufficiency,
but there is no justification for its administration to healthy elderly
Lahita also cautioned against taking DHEA
supplements, which are available in health food stores, without advice
from a physician.
"Androgen is a hormone that is converted
to estrogen, so people taking too much of it run an increased risk of breast
cancer or prostate cancer. It also can make you develop blood clots," Lahita
(Written by Lori Valigra in Cambridge, Mass.)
Copyright 1999 by United Press
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