DHEA for Both Sexes

Q I have heard that DHEA and Pregnenolone are more beneficial for men than women. Is this true?

MS, Jackson Hole, WY

A All of the returns are not in, but at face value this doesn't seem to be true, because the levels of both hormones decline with age in both men and women at about the same rate. More importantly, recent quality-of-life studies suggest that women benefit as much as men, if not more.

A recent British study surveyed 140 women with regard to determinants of sexuality and well-being, and correlated their answers with hormonal analysis of blood samples.1 Measures included sexual function, sexual experience scales, and a multiple choice affect adjective check list. Determinants were evaluated using multiple regression analysis, included age, menopausal status, BMI, smoking, ovarian steroids and adrenal androgens. While none of the hormonal parameters significantly predicted measures of sexuality, the most important predictors were other aspects of the sexual relationship, sexual attitudes and measures of well-being. The best predictor of both well-being and depression was tiredness. The only hormone positively related to well-being was DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).

In another recent study, DHEA sulfate levels were associated with body fat distribution as measured by waist-hip ratio in a sample of 151 consecutively enrolled healthy premenopausal women aged 18 to 24 years.2 In other words, the higher the level of DHEA sulfate (into which DHEA is freely converted in he body), the lower the level of obesity. Differences in concentration of circulating DHEAS and total testosterone are independently associated with the waist-hip ratio in premenopausal women, providing epidemiologic support to the "neuroendocrine dysregulation" hypothesis for the pathogenesis of central obesity. In the famous Yen study, after 6 months of supplementing with 100 mg of DHEA, both men and women had increased levels of lean body mass.3

Women with autoimmune diseases, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis have been found to have lower plasma androgen levels than controls. The case for the use of supplemental DHEA has thus received support for the treatment of lupus.4 Lupus is four times more common in women than in men. In a study involving 11 patients with lupus, several days of therapy with pregnenolone resulted in increased feelings of well-being as well as improved joint pain and significantly reduced skin rash.5

It is also hypothesized by Eugene Roberts, Ph.D. (author of principal articles on pregnenolone and DHEA) that pregnenolone may be able to obviate the long-term virilizing side-effects of DHEA in some women.6 Moreover, ". . . pregnenolone will also reduce the excessive ketosteroid excretion of pathologic origin which occurs in virilism in women."7



  1. Cawood EHH, Bancroft J. Steroid hormones, the menopause, sexuality and well-being of women. Psychological Medicine 1996;26:925-936.
  2. Mantzoros CS, Georgiadis EI, Evangelopoulou K, Katsilambros N. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and testosterone are independently associated with body fat distribution in premenopausal women. Epidemiology 1996;7:513-516.
  3. Morales AJ, Nolan JJ, Nelson JC, Yen SS. Effects of replacement dose of dehydroepiandrosterone in men and women of advancing age. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1994;78:1360-1367.
  4. Lahita RG. The connective tissue diseases and the overall influence of gender. Internl J Fert Menop Stud 1996;41:156-165.
  5. McGavack TH, Chevalley J, Weissberg J. The use of 5-pregnenolone in various clinical disorders. J Clin Endocrinol. 1951;11:559-577.
  6. Roberts E. Pregnenolone - from Selye to Alzheimer and a model of the pregnenolone sulfate binding site on the GABA(A) receptor. Biochem Pharmacol. 1995;49:1-16.
  7. Henderson E, Weinberg M, Wright WA. Pregnenolone. J Clin Endocrinol 1950;10:455-474.

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