New CU study focuses on understanding whether adding DHEA to exercise can improve bone density and muscle strength in older women with low bone density.
University of Colorado College of Nursing Associate Professor, Catherine Jankowski, is leading the DAMES study, a five-year study that will look at how boosting naturally declining levels of the hormone DHEA in older women might improve bone density and muscle mass.
The study is targeted toward women 60-85, who are susceptible to osteoporosis due to low bone density. One hundred and eighty women will be in the study for nine months. Some women will exercise and some will not, and everyone will take a study pill that is either DHEA or placebo (an inactive pill) daily. The exercise is 3 times per week at a specialized exercise laboratory on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
DHEA is a naturally occurring hormone, made by the adrenal glands, that may increase bone density and muscle mass in older women. By evaluating the use of DHEA in addition to exercise, the researchers can see how DHEA, exercise, or both changes bone density and muscle mass.
Dr. Rebecca Boxer, a University of Colorado School of Medicine geriatrician, is a co-investigator on the study.
“Exercise in general is particularly important for older adults. For older adults, we find that people who exercise have the best chance to sustain their physical function as well as cognitive function,” Boxer said.
A unique part of the study is the use of Quantitative CT (QCT) scans to determine the internal structure of bones. “QCT has been used in studies of astronauts after spaceflight; this will be the first time it will be included in DHEA research in older adults,” Jankowski said.
The researchers will also take blood and hair samples to determine changes in DHEA levels in the body.
“I still think we have a lot to learn about how women may benefit in terms of muscle and bone,” Boxer said.
It will be the early 2020s before the researchers will reach any conclusions from this study, but they think that DHEA, along with exercise, could possibly be recommended to women to prevent bone loss.
If you’re a woman between the ages of 60 and 85, a healthy nonsmoker, and lift weights less than twice a week, you might be just the person they’re looking for. Benefits include a free health screening, medical testing, a supervised exercise program and financial compensation.
For more information or to participate in the DAMES study, call 720-848-6476 or email DAMES@ucdenver.edu.