Background. Differences in circulating steroid hormone levels have been hypothesized to explain ethnic differences in steroid-related diseases. The aim of this study was to determine the serum levels of a wide panel of steroid hormones, both androgens and estrogens, in healthy middle-aged African-Caribbean and European men.
Design and methods. Serum steroid hormone levels were determined in men participating in a systematic public health study funded by the French National Health Insurance system. Blood was collected in the morning from 304 healthy African-Caribbean and European men aged between 40 and 69. Serum steroids were measured by mass spectrometry-gas chromatography, except for dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate and sex hormone-binding globulin, which were determined by radioimmunoassay. Data were analyzed in 10-year age intervals by analysis of covariance, with adjustment for age, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, tobacco and alcohol consumption, and season of sampling.
Results. Compared with Europeans, African-Caribbean men presented significantly higher serum levels of measured bioavailable testosterone, 4-androstenedione, and estrone whatever the age group, of 5-androstenediol in those 40 to 49 and 50 to 59, and of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in those aged 40 to 49. In contrast, European men aged 40 to 69 showed significantly higher serum levels of dehydroepiandrosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate.
Conclusions. Significant differences in serum steroid hormone levels were observed in middle-aged African-Caribbean and European men. Whether such differences could contribute to ethnic differences in disease risk in adult men remains to be investigated. Some steroids, such as bioavailable testosterone, 4-androstenedione, 5-androstenediol, and estrone deserve particular attention.