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Hormone mimics fabled fountain of youth.

When Ponce de Leon set out to find the fountain of youth in the 16th century, his search took him to the swamps of what we now know as Florida.

Today, his scientific counterparts explore the intricacies of the human body in search of life-preserving medicines. As yet, they've had little success. But preliminary results from a study of a plentiful, though poorly understood, hormone could provide the first clues to the whereabouts of that elusive fountain.

A team of scientists from the University of California, San Diego, treated 16 middle-aged to elderly people for a year with either the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or a placebo. Although the researchers pleaded with attendees at a conference on DHEA and aging in Washington, D.C., this week not to call the hormone "the fountain of youth--it's not a miracle," their results are tantalizing.

The eight study participants receiving DHEA saw a 75 percent increase in their overall well-being, compared to the other volunteers. "It is a small study," says project leader Samuel S.C. Yen. "But there was a marked increase in psychological well-being and ability to cope among these patients." DHEA, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, appears in increasing amounts at puberty, reaching its peak between the ages of 25 and 30. Because the hormone slowly declines with age, some scientists refer to it as a biological clock of aging (SN: 6/14/86, p.375).

Animal studies of DHEA suggest that it helps protect against viral infections, heart disease, cancer, and AIDS (SN: 11/2/91, p.277).

The researchers gave DHEA recipients enough hormone to equal the amount found in the average 30-year-old. The participants filled out questionnaires to record their physical and psychological well-being.

At the end of the study, volunteers taking DHEA reported improved ability to cope with stress, greater mobility, improved quality of sleep, and less joint pain. Men, but not women, experienced an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in fat. Neither group perceived any change in libido, and no one reported side effects.

The DHEA group also had higher concentrations of insulin growth factor, a compound that spurs the immune system and normally dwindles with age. Teasing out the potential risks and benefits of taking DHEA would require "an extensive study in a large population," Yen cautions, adding that there is no evidence to indicate that DHEA increases longevity. He and Etienne- Emile Baulieu of INSERM in Paris have initiated such a project.
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Title Annotation:dehydroepiandrosterone linked to perceived increase in psychological and mental well-being among middle-aged and elderly study participants
Author:Seachrist, Lisa
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 24, 1995
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