Objective: It is now recognized that mean circulating dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) concentrations in most midlife women exhibit a positive inflection starting in early perimenopause, continuing through early postmenopause and returning to early perimenopausal levels by late postmenopause. This rise in mean DHEAS is accompanied by concomitant rises in testosterone (T), dehydroepiandrosteone (DHEA), and androstenedione (Adione) and an equal rise in androstenediol (Adiol). These observations suggest that there is a specific relationship between the circulating levels of steroids emanating from the adrenal glands, declining ovarian function, and the stages of the menopausal transition. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that the menopausal stage–specific change in circulating DHEAS is associated with concomitant changes in the circulating pattern of adrenal steroids and that some of these adrenal androgens could influence the circulating estrogen/androgen balance.
Methods: Stored annual serum samples (N = 120) were first selected to represent four longitudinal DHEAS profiles of individual women to assess and compare changes in the adrenal contribution to circulating steroids.
Results: Changes in mean circulating DHEAS levels in midlife women during the menopausal transition is associated with changes in mean circulating T, Adione, and Adiol. Mean Adione and T concentrations changed the least, whereas mean DHEAS and Adiol changed the most.
Conclusions: Changes in circulating steroid hormone emanating from the adrenal during the menopausal transition may be more important than the decline in ovarian function in terms of altering the estrogen/androgen balance.