A new study suggests low doses of the hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) a steroid hormone secreted mainly by the adrenal glands, may help relieve menopausal symptoms in women, as well as helping them improve their sex lives.
For the year-long study, published in the Dec. issue of the International Menopause Society's journal Climacteric, Professor Andrea Genazzani and team from the University of Pisa, Italy followed a group of forty-eight postmenopausal women with troubling symptoms. Twelve of the women were given low doses of DHEA, twelve were given standard hormone replacement therapy and received estrogen and progesterone, twelve were given a synthetic steroid tibolone, and twelve took vitamin D and calcium because they wanted to avoid hormones.
Throughout the twelve-month trial the women’s menopausal symptoms were measured using a standard questionnaire, the Greene Climacteric Scale. In addition, participants completed the McCoy Female Sexuality Questionnaire (MFSQ), which includes several questions on sexual interest, sexual activity frequency, vaginal lubrication, sexual partner, orgasm and sexual satisfaction. The questionnaire focuses on factors which impact on the sexuality of females as their hormone levels change. The females also had their hormone levels regularly measured throughout the twelve months.
After twelve-months, all women receiving the hormone replacements showed improvements in climacteric (menopausal) symptoms, whereas those taking vitamin D and Calcium did not show any significant improvement.
At the start of the trial, all groups had similar sexual activity. Women taking calcium and vitamin D showed a McCoy score of 34.9, whereas women taking DHEA showed a McCoy score of 48.6, indicating that women taking DHEA had a statistically significant elevation in sexual interest and activity. The results for the HRT group were similar, and both the HRT group and the DHEA group showed a higher level of sexual intercourse in comparison to the control group. Activity was also higher with tibolone, but this was not statistically significant.
"This is the first time that a controlled trial has shown that low doses of the hormone DHEA may be able to help women deal better with menopausal symptoms, as well as helping their sex life," said study author Professor Andrea Genazzani, director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pisa in Italy. "The work shows that DHEA has potential, especially for those women who may have problems in taking more conventional HRT. But this is a small study, a proof of concept. What we need to do now is to look at a larger study, to confirm that these initial results are valid."
In a written statement, Dr Anna Fenton, co-editor of the journal Climacteric said: “This is an interesting result, although we must bear in mind that this is a pilot study with a small sample. Nevertheless, it does indicate that DHEA has potential as a therapy to help women deal with the physical discomfort of the menopause, as well as helping them sexually. We can’t yet say that this study means that DHEA is a viable alternative to HRT, but what we can say is that we should be looking to do larger studies to confirm these initial results”.