By: Thomas Pickering, MD, DPhil, FRCP, Director of Integrative and Behavioral Cardiology Program
of the Cardiovascular Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands that is converted into estrogen and testosterone in the tissues of the body. The blood levels of DHEA are higher than those of other steroids and decline markedly with aging. There is some evidence (though not consistent) that people with higher levels of DHEA are less likely to develop heart disease, and less likely to have impaired brain function. This has resulted in DHEA supplementation becoming popular to prevent the effects of aging, although there is no proof that this does any good.
Some human studies have shown that DHEA levels are also higher in people with high blood pressure. Now a German study has examined this in more detail.
Six hundred and forty six middle-aged people were sampled from the general population and had measurements of their blood pressure and steroid hormones. The main finding was that there was a significant relationship between the DHEA levels and blood pressure, with hypertensives having higher levels than
normotensives. DHEA levels were also related to levels of another steroid hormone, aldosterone, which is known to raise blood pressure by making the kidneys retain sodium.
This finding is of potential concern to people with high blood pressure who take DHEA supplements, and suggests that blood pressure should be carefully monitored. Nevertheless it does not prove that DHEA actually raises blood pressure, and in experimental animals it has not been found to do so.
Where it was published
H Schunkert and colleagues. Relation between dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and blood pressure levels in a population-based sample. American Journal of Hypertension 1999; 12: 1140.