DHEA May Improve Women’s Post Menopausal Sex Life
DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a naturally made hormone in the human body. As a dietary supplement, it is thought to have many health benefits, including slowing or reversing aging, strengthening weak bones, and improving erectile dysfunction in men. Italian researchers have recently found that DHEA may also help women with menopausal symptoms, including increasing interest in sexual activity.
During menopause, a woman’s hormones fluctuate causing symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Some women take hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to relieve these symptoms. However, HRT has risks such as an increased chance of developing breast cancer or having a stroke, and some women choose not to take the drugs. Alternatives, including over the counter dietary supplements, are often sought out by these women.
DHEA is a hormone made by the adrenal glands and is the most abundant circulating steroid in the body. One of DHEA’s functions is that it is a precursor to sex hormones including testosterone and estrogen.
Published in the journal of the International Menopause Society, Climacteric, the study involved a group of 48 post-menopausal women with troubling symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, loss of sex drive and mood swings. Andrea Genazzani of the University of Pisa split the women into four groups. For a period of one year, 12 took vitamin D and calcium, 12 took DHEA, 12 took standard HRT, and 12 took a synthetic estrogen alternative called tibolone which is used to alleviate menopausal symptoms.
The women were asked questions using the Greene Climacteric Scale and the McCoy Female Sexuality Questionnaire (MFSQ) measuring symptom severity and sexual interest and activity, including frequency of sex, orgasm, and factors that may inhibit sex such as vaginal lubrication. Hormone levels were also measured regularly during the study.
After 12 months, all the women on hormone replacements had improvements in menopausal symptoms, but those taking vitamin D and calcium did not show any significant improvement. The results for sexual interest were similar. Those on hormone replacements showed a higher level of sexual intercourse in comparison to the control group, the researchers said.
Comparing those on commercially available dietary supplements, those on DHEA showed more sexual interest and activity than those on calcium and vitamin D supplements – a score of 48.6 on the McCoy questionnaire versus 34.9.
Climacteric co-editor Anna Fenton stresses that the trial was small, so larger studies will be needed to confirm the results. . "We can't yet say that this study means that DHEA is a viable alternative to HRT, but ... it does indicate that DHEA has potential as a therapy to help with women deal with the physical discomfort of menopause, as well as helping them sexually."
Until the larger studies are performed, women can naturally increase their body’s levels of DHEA production with exercise. Calorie restriction has also been shown to increase hormone levels in animal studies, so a healthy diet could be of benefit as well.
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