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Meta-study: DHEA improves body composition of older men

Supplements containing DHEA, the compound that changes into hormones like testosterone and estradiol in the body, do have an effect on body composition, but don't expect those effects to be dramatic. This is the conclusion that endocrinologists at Maggiore-Bellaria Hospital in Bologna, Italy, draw from a meta-study in which they gathered data from 25 trials and re-analysed them.

When DHEA first appeared on the market as a supplement in the early 1990s, manufacturers hailed it as the anti-aging product. DHEA supplementation could reverse almost every imaginable effect of aging, if you believed the industry's claims.

This is no longer the case. DHEA even suffered from a negative image for a long time, until more recent studies started to show some positive effects. Most of these studies are about the effect of DHEA on body composition by the way.

The Italians were curious as to whether they would observe these positive effects of DHEA in trials that had involved older men. They found 200, but only used 25 of these in their meta-study. The average length of the trials was 36 weeks, and the Italians had data on just under 1400 men in total.

DHEA supplementation boosted the total concentration of testosterone [TT] in the blood by 1.2 nanomoles per litre, and of estradiol by 25 picomoles per litre, the researchers discovered. Both effects were statistically significant.

Meta-study: DHEA improves body composition of older men

Meta-study: DHEA improves body composition of older men

DHEA supplementation caused a modest reduction in fat mass and an even more modest increase in lean body mass. The effect on fat mass was statistically significant; the effect on lean body mass was not.

Meta-study: DHEA improves body composition of older men

Meta-study: DHEA improves body composition of older men

When the researchers released their statistical bag of tricks on the data, they noticed that the positive effect of DHEA on body composition was explained by the effect of DHEA on the testosterone and estradiol levels.

They found no statistically significant effects of DHEA on bone mass, cholesterol balance or the concentration of triglycerides and glucose in the blood.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep;98(9):3615-26.

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