Low levels of a naturally occurring steroid are associated with an increased risk of heart and blood-vessel disease in elderly men, a new study finds. The results will be presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston.
The steroid in question is dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, which is secreted by the adrenal gland and circulates in blood mainly in a sulfated form, DHEA-S. In other tissues, DHEA-S is converted into the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.
Previous, smaller studies found an association between low DHEA-S levels and heart and blood-vessel, or cardiovascular, disease, although their results were inconclusive. At this time, while we know that DHEA production decreases with age, the exact health effects of its decline are unclear.
In this large-scale study, investigators study found that elderly men with the lowest DHEA-S blood levels were significantly more likely than those with higher concentrations to develop cardiovascular-disease events within five years. The increased risk persisted even after controlling for other influences, indicating that low DHEA-S levels are independently associated with a greater risk of disease.
"Our findings may be the result of DHEA-S being protective, or that lower DHEA-S level is a marker for poor general health," said study lead author -sa Tivesten, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. "More research is needed to understand underlying mechanisms and to evaluate the potential benefits of hormone replacement."