Dehydroepiandrosterone in adrenal insufficiency and ageing

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Purpose of review

The physiological role of dehydroepiandrosterone remains unclear, and there is continuing controversy on whether dehydroepiandrosterone treatment benefits adrenal-deficient and elderly people with an age-related decline in dehydroepiandrosterone. The objective of this study is to critically review published results and determine whether there is a valid case for dehydroepiandrosterone treatment with advancing age and hypoadrenalism.

Recent findings

Oral dehydroepiandrosterone therapy in both elderly and hypoadrenal subjects achieves dehydroepiandrosterone levels comparable to young subjects. Long-term dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in elderly people demonstrated no improvement in body composition, physical performance or any metabolic parameters; however, a modest but inconsistent improvement in bone mineral density occurred at certain sites. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in hypoadrenalism modestly improved insulin sensitivity and altered the lipid profile, but it remains uncertain whether these changes improve any patient-important outcomes. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in adrenal deficiency inconsistently improves some aspects of mental health.


Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement increases bone mineral density in elderly subjects; however, the effect is relatively small compared with established therapies for osteoporosis. No additional benefits have been identified for long-term dehydroepiandrosterone replacement, when used in the elderly to prevent or delay ageing. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement may improve some metabolic variables and measures of psychological well-being in adrenal deficiency, but these benefits are not consistently sustained in long-term therapy. Long-term studies are needed to confirm sustained benefits in adrenal deficiency and establish long-term safety.

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