Adrenal derived androgens are low in women with adrenal failure. The physiological consequences of substitution therapy are uncertain.
To investigate the effects of DHEA substitution in women with adrenal failure on body composition, fuel metabolism, and inflammatory markers.
Design, participants and intervention
In this study, ten female patients (median age 38.5 years, range 28–52) with adrenal failure were treated with DHEA 50 mg for 6 months in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, and crossover study. The participants underwent dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, computed tomography scan of abdominal fat, indirect calorimetry, bicycle ergometry, muscle and fat biopsies, and blood samples.
Baseline androgens were normalized to fertile range during active treatment. Anthropometric data were unaffected, but lean body mass (LBM) slightly increased compared with placebo (delta LBM (kg) placebo versus DHEA: −0.48±6.1 vs 1.6±3.4, P=0.02) with no alterations in total or abdominal fat mass. PTH increased with DHEA, but no significant changes were observed in other bone markers or in bone mineral content. The mRNA levels of markers of tissue inflammation (adiponectin, interleukin 6 (IL6), IL10, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1, and tumor necrosis factor α) in fat and muscle tissue were unaffected by DHEA treatment, as was indirect calorimetry and maximal oxygen uptake. A high proportion of self-reported seborrheic side effects were recorded (60%).
In female adrenal failure, normalization of androgens with DHEA 50 mg for 6 months had no effects on muscle, fat, and bone tissue and on fuel metabolism in this small study. A small increase in LBM was observed. Treatment was associated with a high frequency of side effects.