An endocrinologist at Jefferson Medical College cautions that a natural hormone and popular food supplement believed by many to have anti-aging properties may actually increase men's risk of prostate cancer. Marshall Goldberg, M.D., professor of medicine and psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) may stimulate the production of other hormones in the body, resulting in increased levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 can cause abnormal growth of prostate cells.
DHEA is a popular item sold in health food stores for its purported protective properties against such age-related diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. Blood levels of DHEA, the most abundant hormone in the body, rise after puberty, peak between the ages 25-30, then decline throughout the rest of life by as much as 80 percent from its peak.
Earlier this year, researchers reported in Science, a four- to seven-fold increase in the risk of developing prostate cancer, particularly those over 60, whose blood levels of IGF-1 were higher than normal. And Dr. Goldberg reports supplements of DHEA, even as small as 25 milligrams a day, significantly raise IGF-1 levels.
Writing in the August issue of the journal Emergency Medicine, Dr. Goldberg suggests that if the link among high blood levels of DHEA, IGF-1, and the risk of prostate cancer can be confirmed, "regulation of DHEA makes sense.
"This is a real risk factor for prostate cancer," he says. He worries that
the unregulated and medically-unsupervised use of this hormone may eventually prove
dangerous to some people, while its beneficial effects are at best unproved. Many people
over 50 take DHEA, thinking that a little won't hurt, and it could possibly help to
improve their sense of well-being. He estimates that more than 1 million people
Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University