A research team from King's College London led by Dr Guangju Zhai has completed a meta-analysis of seven genetic studies looking at the role of the hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), and how it may affect the ageing process in humans.
The hormone is made in the adrenal glands and is activated by conversion into other estrogenic or androgenic hormones. Unlike other adrenal hormones, such as cortisol or aldosterone, DHEAS levels released in the blood go down as people get older.
By age 85, most people's DHEAS levels have declined by 95 percent. This decline has been linked to ageing and age-related diseases such as certain types of cancer and diabetes, although it is unclear whether the decline is the cause or symptom of disease.
The analysis looked at the genetic profiles and DHEAS levels of more than 14,000 people, and identified eight SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), inside or very close to eight genes. Four of the genes were already linked to age-related processes, while the other four were not previously known to be involved.
Professor Tim Spector, senior author on the paper, said: 'For 50 years, we have observed the most abundant circulating steroid in the body with no clue as to its role. Now its genes have shown us its importance in many parts of the ageing process'.
News of the new research findings led to an increase in DHEAS usage in the USA. Many people there already use supplements of the hormone as an anti-ageing therapy. However, other experts have warned it is too early to say whether the hormone is useful in halting ageing in humans. Professor Anne McArdle, of the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Liverpool, said: ‘The jury is still out on whether it controls ageing'.
The research is published in the journal PLoS Genetics.