DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant circulating steroid hormone in the human body and is made in the adrenal glands and the brain. This critical hormone influences more than 150 known anabolic (repair) functions throughout the body and brain. In the Metabolism of Select Steroids, DHEA is a precursor to the sex hormones, testosterone, and estradiol.
DHEA has its own receptors on many cells including cells in the brain. In animal models, DHEA has been shown to increase the number of brain cells. This is significant because aging can result in the shrinkage of brain volume. DHEA may increase the number of brain cells while helping to reduce cognitive decline and mood disorders.
Decline. Levels of DHEA decline with age starting around the ages of 25 to 28. By the age of 70, it has been shown to have declined as much as 90%.
The use of DHEA is prohibited for athletes in many sports as giving them an unfair athletic advantage.
Dr. Mercola notes that athletes are prohibited from using DHEA if they participate in the following competitions:
- National Football League (NFL)
- Major League Baseball (MLB)
- National Basketball Association (NBA)
- National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
- International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the Olympics
Why? DHEA has been linked to each of the following (note by Dr. Mercola):
· increased lean muscle mass
· countering the stress hormone cortisol
· providing more energy
· reducing inflammation
· supporting the immune system
· improving sleep
All of these are presumed to give any athlete taking DHEA supplements an unfair advantage over his or her competitors.
DHEA versus the Stress Hormone Cortisol
DHEA is frequently used in hormone therapy to restore levels that have declined due to age or other reasons including an unhealthy lifestyle and/or chronic stress. An important and evolutionary function is to act as a counter to the steroid stress hormone cortisol.
DHEA can be used to combat the negative effects of stress. We have heard the expression “stress can kill.” Over time and unchecked, chronic stress can destroy neurons in the brain and damage the heart. It can lead to depression, anxiety, fat gain, poor memory, insomnia, moodiness and even Alzheimer’s disease.
An important natural function of DHEA is to act as a counter to cortisol. Like cortisol, it is produced primarily by the adrenal glands. When faced with stress, the brain will call for the production of more DHEA. However, as noted above, our levels decline with age and decline with an unhealthy and stressful lifestyle.
Studies confirm that high levels of cortisol lead to depression and anxiety and that those with higher ratios of cortisol-to-DHEA have more anxiety, general mood disturbances, greater confusion, and lower memory performance on visual-spatial tasks.
Brain shrinkage. As noted in Life Extension, low DHEA levels are also correlated with brain shrinkage in major depression. High cortisol/low DHEA ratios were associated with smaller volume of the hippocampus (the main memory-processing region of the brain) in people with major depression.
According to studies published in Life Extension Magazine, Low DHEA levels have been associated with multiple brain-related disorders, including stress-induced clinical burnout, bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Other health benefits with positive links to DHEA include the following:
- increased sex drive
- reduced effects of aging
- help prevents heart disease
- assists in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s disease,
- helps prevent diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- promotes normal insulin function
- improves symptoms of depression and anxiety
- stimulates fat burning
- reduces fat storage
- testosterone booster
How to test for DHEA levels
A simple blood test will show the levels of your DHEA. The test is DHEA sulfate. It is inexpensive (or should be). Tests can be ordered by calling the number listed on this website (512.368.1599) or by asking your family doctor or other health care professional to order a DHEA Sulfate test for you.
Note that DHEA levels could show high on the lab test because the body is producing a large amount to counter existing stress levels. Overtime and with “untreated” aging, DHEA levels will be low at all times as the body loses its ability to counter the stress hormone cortisol.
A DHEA Sulfate test can be used to monitor your use of DHEA as a supplement.
Some writers recommend a 24-hour urine test but after testing patients in clinics for more than 16 years, this writer has found the DHEA Sulfate test to be reliable and easy to conduct. Physicians practicing bio-identical hormone therapy will frequently, if not most often, use this serum test.
Possible side effects of DHEA supplementation
DHEA is a natural steroid hormone that our body produces. It declines with “untreated aging” and can decline as a result of trauma, an unhealthy lifestyle, chronic stress and other causes.
It is important to note that you can have too much of a hormone as well as too little. Seeking medical advice from a knowledgeable practitioner is always recommended. Possible side effects could include the following:
- Oily skin and acne as well as skin thickening
- Hair loss.
- Stomach upset.
- High blood pressure.
- Changes in menstrual cycle.
- Facial hair in women.
- Deepening of the voice in women.
Summary of Key Points
What does DHEA do for us? DHEA has been shown in human studies to boost testosterone (as an anabolic precursor), increase fat loss including belly fat while stimulating fat burning, promote insulin function, increase muscle mass, improve memory and energy, combat depression and stress, reduce anxiety, protect the brain, and reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease while supporting longevity.
Why take DHEA with Bioperine? Studies have shown that individuals with higher DHEA sulfate levels lived longer and had a much lower risk of heart disease. High levels of DHEA are strongly associated with longevity. Bioperine ensures bioavailability of the DHEA so it can perform its functions.
What if my levels of DHEA are low? Low levels of DHEA are associated with depression, dementia, obesity, diabetes, asthma, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, and increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Low DHEA levels are now associated with multiple brain-related disorders, including stress-induced clinical burnout, bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue syndrome.