Older men with low levels of a naturally occurring steroid are at significantly increased risk of heart and blood-vessel diseases, a new study finds.
DHEA – short for dehydroepiandrosterone – is secreted by the adrenal gland converted into the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. As men age, their DHEA levels decrease.
The new study, led by Swedish researchers at the University of Gothenburg, suggests that decline puts men at risk. A five-year analysis of more than 2,000 elderly men found those with the lowest DHEA blood levels were significantly more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those with higher concentrations.
"Our findings may be the result of [DHEA] being protective, or that [a] lower DHEA level is a marker for poor general health," said lead researcher Dr. Åsa Tivesten. "More research is needed to understand underlying mechanisms and to evaluate the potential benefits of hormone replacement."
Investigators used an advanced laboratory technique to isolate, identify, and measure DHEA levels in the blood of the men in the study, who were between the ages of 69 and 81 years.
"A potential practical implication is that established cardiovascular risk factors perhaps should be assessed and treated more aggressively in men with lower [DHEA] levels,” said Tivesten, who presented the findings at the The Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston.