Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) [prasterone] is typically secreted by the adrenal glands and its secretory rate changes throughout the human lifespan. When human development is completed and adulthood is reached, DHEA and DHEA sulphate (DHEAS) [PB-008] levels start to decline so that at 70-80 years of age, peak DHEAS concentrations are only 10-20% of those in young adults. This age-associated decrease has been termed 'adrenopause', and since many age-related disturbances have been reported to begin with the decline of DHEA/DHEAS levels, this provides a potential opportunity for use of DHEA as replacement therapy. For these reasons, use of DHEA as a replacement therapy in aging men and women has been proposed and this paper outlines the reported beneficial effects of such treatment in humans. Many interesting results have been obtained in experimental animals suggesting that DHEA positively modulates most age-related disturbances. However, renewed interest in DHEA has arisen as a result of recent studies suggesting that DHEA appears to be beneficial in hypoandrogenic men as well as in postmenopausal and aging women. Menopause is the event in a woman's life that induces a dramatic change in the steroid milieu, and use of DHEA as 'replacement treatment' has been reported to restore both the androgenic and estrogenic environment and reduce most of the symptoms of this change. As menopause is the beginning of the biological transition of women towards senescence, it is of great interest to better understand how DHEA might help to solve and/or overcome the problems of this complex stage of life. In men with adrenal insufficiency and hypogonadism without androgen replacement, DHEA administration results in a significant increase in circulating androgens. Though most data are suggestive for use of DHEA as hormonal replacement treatment, more defined and specific clinical trials are needed to uncover all of the 'secrets' and features of this steroid before it can be used as a standard treatment. Furthermore, DHEA is perceived differently around the world, being considered only a 'dietary supplement' in the US, while in many European countries it is considered a 'true hormone' that has not been approved for use as a hormonal treatment by the European health authorities. This overview offers some points of view on use of DHEA as an experimental hormonal replacement therapy.
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