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Immune System and DHEA


DHEA has been shown to enhance the immune response against a wide range of viral, bacterial and parasitic pathogens.
Clinical studies have reported that DHEA helps regulate the immune system and may play a role in the prevention and treatment of certain auto-immune diseases.

It is suggested by some textbooks and review articles that DHEA can stimulate the immune system.

It is in the field of immunology that DHEA has perhaps shown its most broad-spectrum positive action. 


Clinical Studies

  • In one animal study, DHEA supplementation showed a significant reduction in the level of internal parasites

  • A recent study found a strong inverse correlation between human serum DHEA-S levels and interleukin 6 (IL-6) levels.
    IL-6 is one of many cytokines, or immune cell "quasi-hormones," which collectively regulate immune activity. High interleukin levels are implicated as a causal factor in many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, B-cell cancers, atherosclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Interleukin 6 levels tend to dramatically increase with aging, just as DHEA-S levels decrease with aging. After studying 120 healthy human subjects, 15-75 years of age, R.H. Straub and colleagues concluded: "decreased DHEA serum concentrations during aging or inflammatory diseases will be paralleled by a significant increase in interleukin production.  Thus, we conclude that the decrease in DHEA levels is a deleterious process, in particular during chronic inflammatory diseases."

  • O.Khorram, L.Vu and S.S.C. Yen, long-time DHEA researchers, published an important DHEA study in 1997.
    Nine healthy "age-advanced men" (mean age: 63) were given 50 mg DHEA daily for 20 weeks after 2 weeks' placebo treatment.  They noted that the study demonstrates the stimulatory effects of DHEA on the immune function of age-advanced men. DHEA rejuvenated the immune system by increasing the secretion of IL-2, a potent T-cell growth factor, increasing the number of cells expressing the IL-2 receptor, and enhancing T cell responsiveness to mitogen stimulation.
    All of which decline during physiologic aging.  The significant increase in NK [natural killer] cell cytotoxicity in DHEA treated subjects was potentially related to the increased number of NK cells, both events being mediated by DHEA-induced IL-2 stimulation. There were no adverse effects noted with DHEA administration.

  • In a recent study with eleven postmenopausal women, P.R. Casson and co-workers administered 50 mg DHEA daily in a double-blind crossover study.  They reported that "The major finding in this study was the dramatic enhancement in natural killer cell activity.  This natural killer cell enhancement was seen in each of the 11 subjects. In this study DHEA appeared to suppress the unexplained increase in stimulated interleukin production seen in the placebo group" Natural killer cells are a key part of the immune stystem.  They are (ideally) in constant surveillance mode, looking especially for viruses and cancer cells to destroy.

  • Various abnormalities of immune system function have been described in the elderly. Among them, increased concentrations of neopterin have been reported, which is produced by human monocytes/macrophages upon stimulation by interferon-gamma. In order to examine the relation of serum DHEA to serum neopterin, we studied 281 otherwise healthy outpatients, who visited the physician's office for a medical health check-up. 10% presented with increased neopterin concentrations, 0.4% had increased DHEA sulfate (DHEAs) concentrations. DHEAs concentrations were significantly higher in patients with lower neopterin concentrations (Mann-Whitney test: U=4793, P<0.0001). There existed a rather strong inverse correlation between DHEAs concentrations and serum neopterin concentrations (Spearman's rank correlation: r(s)=-0.221, P<0.0001). The data support the concept that the decrease of DHEA with increasing age is related to immune system activation.



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