Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfated ester are found in high concentrations in the plasma; however, their role in normal human physiology, other than as precursors for sex hormones, remains incompletely defined. Studies of rodent models have shown that these hormones have beneficial effects on a wide variety of conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, immune function, atherosclerosis, and many of the disorders associated with normal aging. However, rodents are not the best models to study the actions of these hormones because they have very little endogenous DHEA; thus, the doses given to these animals are usually suprapharmacological. Human studies have been performed to determine the potential beneficial effects of DHEA replacement in persons with low DHEA levels. Results have been conflicting. Human studies suggest a potential role for DHEA replacement in persons who have undergone adrenalectomy and possibly in the aging population. However, long-term studies assessing the benefits vs adverse effects must be done before DHEA replacement can be recommended.
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