The role of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulphated form (DHEAS) as anabolic hormones is still debated in the literature. In this review we describe the fundamental steps of DHEA physiological secretion and its peripheral metabolism. Moreover we will list all the observational and intervention studies conducted in humans. Many observational studies have tested the relationship between low DHEA levels and age-related changes in skeletal muscle and bone, while intervention studies underline the positive and significant effects of DHEA treatment on several parameters of body composition. Surprisingly, observational studies are not consistent with different effects in men and women. There is recent evidence of a significant role of DHEA in frailty syndrome and as predictor of mortality. However a more complete approach of the problem suggests the opportunity to not focus only on one single hormonal derangement but to analyze the parallel dysregulation of anabolic hormones including sex steroids, GH-IGF-1 system and other catabolic hormones.
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