Posted on May 12, 2009, 12 p.m.
By gary clark
Women can significantly improve their spinal bone density by taking a combination of a DHEA supplement with calcium and vitamin D, a Saint Louis University/Washington University research study has determined. And that increase can reduce women’s risk of spine fractures by up to 50 percent.
As humans age, the level of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a naturally occurring steroid hormone, drops. Knowing that low concentrations of DHEA are associated with low bone density, researchers from Saint Louis University and Washington University decided to conduct a study that looked at whether bone health would improve if DHEA levels were restored.
To determine the answer to this critical question, the researchers divided men and women participants, ages 65 to 75, into two groups. A test group received a combination of the DHEA supplement, vitamin D and calcium for a total of two years, while the control group received a placebo, vitamin D and calcium during the first year of the study, with the DHEA supplement replacing the placebo in the second year.
The female participants in the test group gained approximately two percent additional spinal bone density after the first year, while women in the control group did not see an increase during the same time frame. When both groups were taking the DHEA supplement during the second year, the women in the test group gained an additional two percent increase, with the women in the control group also experiencing a two percent increase. Men did not experience the same increases; men in both the test and control groups had a one to two percent increase overall.
The researchers believe that the additional vitamin D and calcium supplements, which both the test and control groups received, may have been responsible for the increase in spinal bone density. They also point out that achieving a two to four percent increase in spinal bone density can result in a 30 to 50 percent reduction in the risk of spine fractures. However, as study lead author Edward Weiss, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University's Doisy College of Health Sciences, notes, the addition of the DHEA supplements benefited spinal bone density only - not hip bone density. Dr. Weiss suggested that hips may respond more slowly to bone-enhancing therapies and therefore require a longer time frame for the benefits of the added supplement to take effect.
"The results of our study are very promising. Similar studies have demonstrated much smaller benefits for bone than we found," says Dr. Weiss. However, he adds, "Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, which are present in half of older adults, may have prevented DHEA from improving bone density in the earlier studies."
The results also suggested that taking the DHEA supplements for two years is as effective as other well-known therapies, including estrogen and bisphosphonates, to improve bone densities. And Dr. Weiss also notes that "DHEA replacement may have other benefits including improvements in risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, improvements in immune function, and improvements in psychological health." He cautions that women should consult with their physicians before taking DHEA, which is readily available as an over-the-counter dietary supplement. "Although DHEA is generally considered safe for consumption at 50 mg per day, it increases estrogen and testosterone levels, which in turn could increase cancer risk," he says. "Therefore, DHEA supplementation should be avoided in men and women who have had cancer or who have a strong family history of cancer until further research can establish whether or not it is safe for these individuals."
News Release: DHEA hormone replacement increases bone density in older women www.newswise.com May 11, 2009