Objective: The perimenopausal increase in circulating dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) levels during the menopausal transition (MT) is accompanied by other adrenal steroids that have the potential to alter estrogen/androgen balance and explain the wide interwoman range of estrogen-related symptoms experienced during the MT.
Methods: Annual serum samples from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, which had previously been analyzed for immunoreactive estradiol (E2), testosterone, DHEAS, and sex hormone–binding globulin, were selected based on DHEAS concentration and analyzed for immunoreactive and bioactive estrogens and androgens, including immunoreactive androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone, and 5-androstene-3β,17β-diol (androstenediol [Adiol]).
Results: A two-fold increase in circulating androstenedione and testosterone was found to rise in parallel with the rise in circulating DHEAS, whereas dehydroepiandrosterone and Adiol concentrations rose seven- to eight-fold. Circulating Adiol, which has both androgenic and estrogenic biological activity, was significantly associated (P < 0.02) with circulating estrogen bioactivity only when E2 concentrations were low and Adiol levels were high.
Conclusions: The wide range of circulating levels of Adiol and its contribution to total circulating estrogenicity during the MT is consistent with the observed interwoman difference in symptoms at this time. Therefore, we conclude that Adiol contributes to circulating estrogenicity when E2 production falls at menopause and may contribute significantly to the endocrine changes experienced by midlife women.