A clinical study found that supplements of 7-oxo Dehydroepiandrosterone taken twice daily by healthy adults for a month boosted several key T-cell mediated immune function parameters compared to placebo.
Levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a natural pro-hormone in the body, have been shown to peak between ages 20 and 30 and then decrease progressively with age. This has led to its use in investigations on age-related disease, of growing concern to governments.
Western countries are bracing themselves for an explosion in their elderly populations, bringing along with the trend an increase in age-related disease because of the decline in immune function. In the US, one out of every 26 Baby Boomers is expected to live to be 100 years old.
Dietary supplements are increasingly gaining consumer attention for their potential to boost the immune system.
A small Japanese study recently suggested that DHEA could help prevent age-related heart disease, after the supplements of the hormone improved artery function as well as insulin sensitivity in middle-aged men with high cholesterol levels
But in another trial on patients with Alzheimer's disease, published in Neurology last year, it had no effect on cognitive performance or disease severity.
The new study used 3-acetyl-7-oxo-dehydroepiandrosterone (7-oxo DHEA), a more potent and natural DHEA derivative in the body that also declines with age, and has been previously shown to enhance T-cell function in human lymphocytes.
7-oxo DHEA is marketed as a supplement in the US under the name 7-Keto, although the hormone is not available in other markets.
Althought there are three different components in immune response - cellular or T-cell immunity, humoral or B-cell immunity and innate immunity - investigators have most consistently identified abnormalities in the cellular or T-cell mediated immune function in the elderly.
The decline in T-cell immune function is generally associated with an increased susceptibility to infections. For example, individuals with age-related declines in cellular immunity have an impaired response to influenza vaccine, making them more susceptible to getting the flu even if they have been vaccinated.
The results of the new study suggest that 7-oxo DHEA may play an important future role as an immune system modulator, said Dr John Zenk of the Minnesota Applied Research Center in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and colleagues, presenting their findings at Experimental Biology 2004 this week.