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Abstract

Bone loss is a serious consequence of anorexia nervosa (AN). Subnormal levels of serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are seen in patients with AN and may be causally linked to their low bone density. We hypothesized that oral DHEA would decrease markers of bone resorption (urinary N-telopeptides [NTx]), and increase markers of bone formation (serum bone-specific alkaline phosphatase and osteocalcin [OC]). Fifteen young women (age 15–22 years) with AN were enrolled in a 3-month, randomized, double-blinded trial of 50, 100, or 200 mg of daily micronized DHEA. Blood and urinary levels of adrenal and gonadal steroids and bone turnover markers were measured. No adverse clinical side effects of DHEA were noted, and a 50 mg daily dose restored physiologic hormonal levels. At 3 months, NTx levels had decreased significantly in both the 50 mg (p = 0.018) and the 200 mg (p = 0.016) subgroups. OC levels simultaneously increased within treatment groups over time (p = 0.002). Eight out of 15 (53%) subjects had at least one menstrual cycle while on therapy. Short-term DHEA was well-tolerated and appears to normalize bone turnover in young women with AN. Resumption of menses in over half of subjects suggests that DHEA therapy may also lead to estradiol levels sufficient to stimulate the endometrium in this group of patients.