There are many hormonal changes that occur with ageing in humans, of which the most dramatic and intriguing change occurs for the adrenal androgenic steroid dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA). There are tantalizing epidemiological data demonstrating a significant association between the changes in circulating DHEA level and changes in the incidence of malignancy, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and other age-related changes. The pharmacological effects in animals such as rodents and rabbits have demonstrated many beneficial effects, for example increased immune function, the prevention of atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and obesity, and the improvement of memory. Clinical studies carried out in small groups of subjects have clearly demonstrated that the administration of DHEA to the elderly increases many hormone levels, including that of insulin-like growth factor-1, (free and total) testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, oestrone and oestradiol. It remains to be clearly defined whether these changes are clinically beneficial, and there is only insufficient information on the side-effects on long-term use. Results from short-term intervention studies in small groups of subjects have not demonstrated any convincing beneficial effects so far. A judgement on whether DHEA replacement has a place in preventing age-related disabilities could be determined only on the basis of results from studies of long-term DHEA replacement in elderly people.
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