Because dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an adrenal steroid hormone with weak intrinsic androgenic properties that can be converted in peripheral tissues into more potent sex hormones, one might expect a positive effect of DHEA on bone mineral density (BMD). We evaluated the effects on lumbar BMD of oral DHEA, 200 mg/day, for 1 year in female patients with quiescent systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
The study subjects were 60 women with SLE. All participants gave informed consent to participate in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of DHEA on fatigue and general well-being. BMD was measured with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) at baseline and after 12 months.
Fifty-eight patients (mean age 42.6 years) could be evaluated; 2 patients (both in the DHEA group) refused to undergo DEXA a second time. In premenopausal women, DHEA did not influence BMD significantly. There was a significant increase in BMD with use of DHEA in postmenopausal women who were not receiving bisphosphonates or estrogen-containing medications. This increase was not observed in the group receiving placebo.
In premenopausal women with quiescent SLE, use of DHEA does not have a significant effect on BMD. DHEA may increase BMD in postmenopausal SLE patients if they are not already protected from bone loss by use of estrogens or bisphosphonates. Small numbers, due to the absence of stratification for menopausal status, and the use of antiresorptive agents at randomization preclude firmer conclusions based on the results of this study.