DHEA and testosterone can’t turn back the clock

Associated Press

The fountain of youth apparently does not yet come in a pill.

Widely used DHEA supplements and testosterone patches failed to deliver their touted anti-aging benefits in one of the first rigorous studies to test such claims in older men and women.

“I don’t think there’s any case for administering these” to elderly people, said Dr. K. Sreekumaran Nair of the Mayo Clinic, lead author of the study, published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

DHEA, a steroid that is a precursor to the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, is made by the body, but levels decline rapidly after age 25. Scientists have wondered whether taking DHEA supplements might help older people, but there have been few rigorous scientific studies. A French study of DHEA in 280 elderly people reported in 2000 found the only benefit was an increase in female libido. A Dutch study this year found no benefit of DHEA in 100 men 70 and older.


The new study was done by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the University of Padua in Italy. Over two years, the researchers studied 57 women and 87 men, all of them at least 60 years old. The women were given standard daily doses of DHEA or identical fake pills. The men were given real or fake DHEA, as well as a testosterone skin patch or a placebo patch. Participants were examined for changes in body fat, hormone levels, bone density as well as their performance on treadmill, weightlifting and leg flexibility tests. They also answered quality of life questionnaires.

DHEA and testosterone levels increased in the men and women who took the real treatments, but there was no effect on physical performance, quality of life or the body’s ability to lower levels of blood sugar.

The testosterone treatments led to a small increase in the amount of body weight free of fat, but no improvements in strength. DHEA had no such effect, but did appear to improve density in bones in the arm and neck, yet not in the back and hip.

No harmful side effects were detected. But that does not mean the supplements are altogether safe, said Simon Yeung, manager of the website on supplements and integrative medicine at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.


In the study, testosterone was given in low doses. Higher levels might have more benefit, but doctors worry testosterone may also raise the risk of prostate cancer.

As for DHEA, cancer specialists worry it may increase certain patients’ risks of breast and prostate cancer, Yeung said.