In a year-long study, daily supplementation with DHEA was found to increase oestrogen levels by up to four times, they report in the December issue of Fertility and Sterility (vol 80, issue 6, pp 1495-1501).
DHEA is produced naturally in the adrenal glands. The body then converts it into the hormones oestrogen and testosterone. However DHEA levels decrease with age so it has been theorised that boosting levels of the chemical could protect against age-related disorders, including cardiovascular disease.
For the study, by Dr Alessandro D. Genazzani from the University of Modena, Italy and colleagues, 20 menopausal women took a daily supplement of 25 milligrams DHEA over 12 months. They saw levels of both oestrogen, testosterone and dihydrotestosterone increase by between three and four times and nearly two-fold increases in progesterone levels.
The women also reported improvements in hot flushes and no side effects, according to the researchers.
The findings suggest that DHEA could one day replace hormone replacement therapy, seeing rapidly declining use following research showing negative side effects. Supplements are set to benefit, with an American charity NAMS recently releasing a statement that supports use of herbals such as soy isoflavones.
Much more research into DHEA is needed however, with fears that its hormone production could stimulate the growth of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast or prostate cancers. It has also been linked to build-up of cholesterol in the arteries, raising risk of heart disease.