What is DHEA?
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
In case you haven’t noticed, we love our hormones here at Optimal Hormone Health! It is
unlikely that you see the critical work hormones do every day until they start to decline with age or menopause. Many of the changes you might experience, loss of libido, strength, muscle mass, memory problems, and energy, are not a direct result of aging but a decrease in certain hormones.
Hormones are your body's chemical messengers. They travel in your bloodstream to tissues or organs. The complex interplay between the glands, hormones, and other target organs is referred to as the endocrine system. You can have too much or too little of a hormone. For example, take Cortisol, which is released during stress. Too much Cortisol can damage your immune system and has been linked to depression and anxiety.
Many essential hormones start to decline as we age. Declining hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and DHEA lead to muscle weakness, decreased sex drive, fatigue, depression, and trouble concentrating. Our focus for this article is DHEA. Let’s take a look at the importance and benefits of DHEA.
What is DHEA, and Why does it Matter?
DHEA is a hormone produced naturally in the adrenal gland. It helps produce other hormones like Estrogen and Testosterone. Supplemental DHEA is made from yams or soy. And why would you need supplements? Because, like so many other hormones, DHEA declines with age. Levels begin to decrease at about age 30 and can decrease by up to 80% during adulthood. DHEA levels are highest when you are about 20 years old and decline by as much as 10% per decade.
Lower levels of DHEA have been associated with depression, heart disease, and mortality, and decreased bone density leading to fractures. DHEA boosts levels of Estrogen and Testosterone which are vital hormones for energy, concentration, and sex drive. Research is inconclusive in some areas of study of DHEA, but these are the benefits that have been suggested:
An Increase in Bone Density
Low levels of DHEA in women have been associated with an increase in fractures. Some studies indicate that more prolonged supplementation of DHEA may increase bone density.
Osteoporosis is a serious problem for older women, and falls are the leading cause of disability and death for women over the age of 65.
Some studies have shown DHEA supplementation was associated with significant improvements among patients with depression. “Research sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that DHEA can relieve depression in middle-aged people.” For people without clinical depression, some studies have shown an improvement in overall mood and well-being.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome takes a multi-pronged approach to treatment. Studies have shown that DHEA levels are abnormal in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, but research has not confirmed that DHEA should be used as treatment. Speak with your healthcare provider about using DHEA as an adjunct treatment therapy for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce high enough levels of
steroid hormones, including DHEA. This condition can cause weakness, changes in blood
pressure, and fatigue. DHEA supplements have been found to reduce the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency.
DHEA may benefit your cardiovascular system. It dilates your veins, reduces inflammation, and diminishes the risk of harmful blood clots.
Research shows that muscle becomes denser when exposed to DHEA. Of course, the other
important point to remember is that muscle density also responds to exercise. So, if you are
taking DHEA, make sure you get the full benefit by doing weight-bearing exercises.
Sexual Desire and Function
Some evidence suggests that DHEA treatment can help improve sexual desire and function.
One 2013 study found that women experienced a significant increase in sexual desire when
treated with DHEA over six weeks. DHEA used as a vaginal suppository can help with vaginal dryness and pain during sex. DHEA may also improve libido and correct erectile dysfunction in men, but more research is needed to establish a relationship.
Some research shows that taking DHEA increases the thickness and hydration of the skin's top layer in older adults. Also, some evidence indicates that applying DHEA to the skin for four months improves the appearance of postmenopausal women’s skin.
Hormone Treatment and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dr. Dale Bredesen is world-renowned in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases,
specifically Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bredesen has a complex and fascinating approach to
reversing Alzheimer’s that involves extensive laboratory testing and changes based on those
tests. Part of the treatment he recommends is hormone optimization, which includes DHEA.
Starting DHEA Treatment
We need more research on the benefits of DHEA. If you experience symptoms like fatigue, low sex drive, or depressed mood, you may have low DHEA levels. At Optimal Hormone Health, we will assess your hormone levels to evaluate where hormone supplementation will help you. A simple blood test can tell you where your DHEA levels are.
There are risks with taking any hormones, and we will discuss these risks based on your unique profile. There are side effects and contraindications with the supplementation of DHEA, so make sure that you have a complete medical workup before taking any supplements. Taking DHEA, along with other depleted hormones, may give you a new lease on life!