March 22, 2012

DHEA: What is it Good For?

DHEA and Hormone TestWhat is DHEA?

DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone is a steroid hormone and is the most abundant hormone we make. Like other steroid hormones DHEA is made from cholesterol. So you do need cholesterol. Dehydroepiandrotsterone is largely made in the adrenal glands that sit above the kidneys. In women some DHEA is made in the ovaries and in the testes in men.

Dehydroepiandrosterone production peaks around age 20 and then steadily declines thereafter so that by age 70 levels are only 10% to 20% of peak levels. DHEA is a precursor to other hormones like testosterone, estrogens, and progesterone.

Health Benefits

To some degree DHEA is utility hormone and supports many of the other hormones, yet provides its own health benefits. It is an anabolic hormone increasing protein synthesis. It improves mood and well-being and improves energy and memory. It’s an antioxidant and increases fat burning. It enhances the immune system and helps maintain bone density. It also prevents platelets from sticking to each other decreasing the possibility of blood clotting. In laboratory animals dehydroepiandrosterone has been shown to slow the aging process.

As mentioned above dehydroepiandrosterone is a precursor to the sex hormones. One key point though: in women dehydroepiandrosterone is more likely to get converted into testosterone while in men it tends to get converted to estrogens. In some women DHEA alone can be used to improve testosterone levels improving libido and assisting in maintaining muscle mass and bone density.

Mortality/Morbidity Rates

Several studies have shown that individuals with naturally higher DHEA levels have overall statistically significant lower mortality rates and cardiovascular mortality. Levels of dehydroepiandrosterone are inversely related to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, too.

Dehydroepiandrosterone and SLE

Patients with SLE, or systemic lupus erythematosus have lower levels of dehydroepiandrosterone. SLE patients with lower DHEA levels have been also shown to have poor attention and lower learning scores on neuropsychiatric testing. DHEA supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms in SLE patients and is FDA approved for use in SLE. Overall, DHEA improves immune system in SLE which is an autoimmune disorder.

Dehydroepiandrosterone and Erectile Dysfunction

Men with erectile dysfunction have lower dehydroepiandrosterone levels in addition to frequently having low testosterone levels. Some studies have shown DHEA supplementation to improve erectile dysfunction especially in men with high blood pressure.

How is DHEA Supplemented?

It can be obtained over-the-counter as a capsule or tablet. The purity of such supplements can vary. Seek out a pharmaceutical grade product. But, since it is hormone it is best to have DHEA (in actuality DHEA-S levels are measured) levels measured and treatment supervised by a physician.

Side Effects of Dehydroepiandrosteone

Dehydroepiandrosterone can be used to increase testosterone levels in women.  Dosages of 10 mg to 25 mg are usually effective. In men doses between 25 mg and 100 mg are frequently used. Side effects include acne, oily skin, hair growth (face, chin, underarms) more so in women, but can also cause a rash and liver dysfunction.

DHEA is often an overlooked hormone that not only supports many other hormones, but also provides its own health benefits. By age 40 many men and women are sufficiently low in this hormone that dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation should be considered if blood levels are low.

See related articles.

“Hormone Balance”

“Understanding Hormone Replacement Therapy in Men”

“Anti Aging Hormones”


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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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