Hormone Might Ease Menopause, Boost Women's Sex Life: Study
But trial of DHEA's effects was small and much more research is needed, expert says
TUESDAY, Dec. 20, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- A hormone called DHEA appears to help ease women's menopausal symptoms and also improve their sex life, a small, new study says.
This is the first evidence that low doses of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, can help sexual function as well as menopausal symptoms, according to the researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy.
The study included 48 postmenopausal women who'd experienced troubling symptoms for a year. They were divided into four groups: 12 took vitamin D and calcium to prevent osteoporosis; 12 took a low dose of DHEA; 12 were given standard hormone replacement therapy (HRT) of estrogen plus progesterone; and 12 took tibolone, a synthetic steroid.
The women's menopausal symptoms and levels of sexual interest and activity were monitored for a year.
At the end of that time, all the women receiving the hormone replacements showed improvements in menopausal symptoms, but there was no significant improvement among those taking vitamin D and calcium.
The study also found that women taking DHEA had a statistically significant increase in sexual interest and activity, with similar results for women in the HRT group. Sexual activity was also higher among the women taking tiboline, but the increase was not statistically significant.
The findings, published in the December issue of the journal Climacteric, indicate the need for larger clinical trials to confirm the benefits of DHEA in women after menopause.
"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. 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," study leader Professor Andrea Genazzani said in an International Menopause Society news release.
"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," journal co-editor Dr. Anna Fenton said in the release.
"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," she added.
The U.S. government's Office of Women's Health has more about menopause symptom relief and treatment.