It is unknown whether replacement doses of cortisone acetate and the absence of the small amounts of androgens secreted by the adrenal cortex may cause osteoporosis. This was studied in 35 patients (12 men and 23 women) suffering from primary adrenocortical failure and taking cortisone acetate 25-37.5 mg and fludrocortisone 50-100 micrograms daily. Bone mineral density was measured by single photon absorptiometry at the midshaft of the radius, representing cortical bone, and at the distal part of the radius, a site with a significant trabecular component. The bone mineral density was normal in premenopausal female patients as well as in male patients, showing that replacement doses of cortisone acetate do not affect bone mass. By contrast, in postmenopausal patients there was a dramatic bone loss in addition to the physiological postmenopausal decrease in bone mass. This loss, combined with the low plasma concentrations of androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone, and testosterone (and low concentrations of oestrone of adrenal origin), indicates that adrenal androgens may be essential for the maintenance of bone mass in postmenopausal women with Addison's disease. In addition, these data indicate that the small amounts of androgens secreted by the adrenal cortex have a role in the maintenance of bone mass in normal postmenopausal women.