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High elevation linked to hormone dearth

7:57pm, May 21, 2002

Elderly Peruvian women living at high elevations have lower concentrations of a natural steroid in their blood than their sea-level counterparts do, a study shows. This shortage might place the mountain women at risk of illness and could explain, in part, earlier reports that women living at extreme altitudes have shorter life spans than lowland women do.

The researchers compared blood samples from women living at elevations above 4,000 meters in the Andes with samples from women of similar ethnicity living near sea level in Lima. Between the ages of 60 and 70, the mountain women had less than half as much dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in their blood as the Lima women had, the authors report in the April Journal of Endocrinology. The mountain women also had lower blood concentrations of two related hormones, DHEA sulfate and androstenedione, says study coauthor Gustavo F. Gonzales, an endocrinologist at the University of Peruana Cayetan Heredia in Lima.

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