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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural steroid prohormone produced from cholesterol mostly by the adrenal glands, but also by the gonads, adipose tissue, the brain and in the skin. In the blood, most DHEA is found as DHEAS. The amount of DHEAS that a man has in his blood is a "strong predictor" how long he will live, a new report from a 27-year study conducted in Japan shows. DHEAS is a "pre-hormone," which the body converts into androgens and estrogens, Dr. Mika Enomoto and colleagues from Kurume University School of Medicine and colleagues explain. Levels of DHEAS peak during a person's 20s and 30s and then soon sharply decline.
Animal research has found the hormone has a number of anti-aging effects, they add, and some studies in humans have linked DHEAS levels to longevity. To better understand the relationship between DHEAS levels in humans and life span, the researchers measured DHEAS levels in 940 men and women who ranged in age from 21 to 88 in 1978, and followed them until 2005.
Men had higher levels of DHEAS at the study's outset, and both sexes showed a decline in levels of the hormone over time. In women, there was no relationship between their levels of DHEAS and how long they lived. But for men, low levels of DHEAS, older age, higher blood pressure and higher blood sugar levels after fasting showed a significant association with shorter lifespan. Among these variables, the researchers found that high levels of DHEAS were the most strongly linked to a longer life. The relationship between DHEAS and longevity remained even after the researchers adjusted for glucose levels, age and blood pressure.
But it took 15-years of follow before there was a difference in longevity among men based on DHEAS levels, the researchers note. The scientists conclude the "these data suggest that serum level of DHEAS is a strong predictor of 27-year longevity in men." The study is published in the June 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.