The findings contrast with a small study reported in July that found a low dose of DHEA to improve vascular endothelial function, or artery flexibility, as well as insulin sensitivity.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a prohormone naturally made by the adrenal glands and converted to other steroid hormones. As levels of the substance decrease with age, it is taken by some to help combat age-related disease, including heart disease and Alzheimer's.
The researchers examined the effect of DHEA on two key early events that lead to arteriosclerosis - human monocyte adhesion to vascular endothelium and human foam cell formation - in a lab study.
Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (vol 42, issue 11, pp1967-1974), they report that the substance increased human macrophage foam cell formation, a potentially pro-atherogenic effect.
"This effect appears to be mediated via the androgen receptor and involves the upregulation of lipoprotein-processing enzymes," write the researchers.
In April, another team of researchers reported that DHEA supplements did not improve memory or reduce severity of Alzheimer's disease after six months of treatment.