DHEA - The Key to Wellbeing, a Well Known Secret
The hormone, dihydroepiandosterone, or DHEA is a very important hormone that has not yet been plumbed by medical science, but we know enough about it to know it is absolutely essential for optimal health.
Since the 1980’s, many research papers have been published on the multiple healthful functions DHEA performs in the body.
The many benefits are:
- Improves thinking
- Decreases depression
- Promotes better sleep
- Improvement in sexuality
- Has anti-aging qualities
- Helpful with osteoporosis
- Improves blood vessel function and insulin sensitivity
- Boosts the immune system
- Helps reduce body fat
- Helps address auto-immune diseases
- Helps with hot flashes
DHEA is a prohormone and produced mainly by the adrenal glands, but also by the gonads, the brain, and the skin. It serves as a precursor to male and female hormones, and is also referred to as the parent hormone. Pregneneolone is the immediate precursor to DHEA as well as progesterone. Accordingly, it is referred to as the grandfather of all steroid hormones. As a side note, when you take pregneolone, you have no control as to wether it will down regulate into DHEA or progesterone. Because of this, I recommend taking DHEA and progesterone directly.
At one stage of life— during the teenage years—it is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body. DHEA levels decline in a straight line as we age.
In fact, some believe that many of the manifestations of aging are caused by deficiencies in DHEA.
This hormone begins to appear in our bodies at age 5, peaks during our 20s, is at the 50 percent level at age 40, and between the ages of 60 and 80 declines to between 20 and 10 percent of peak levels. This definitive decrease is not seen with other hormones, and because of it, DHEA is considered the biological marker for aging: those people with the highest levels seem to have the greatest longevity. In fact, some believe that many of the manifestations of aging are caused by deficiencies in DHEA.
Administration of DHEA is associated with a remarkable increase in perceived physical and psychological well-being. These benefits are noticed after about four months of therapy. People report increased energy, better sleep, a significant improvement in sexuality and in mood, along with a better ability to handle stress.
DHEA has been shown to enhance memory and mental acuity and to decrease depression. Administration of DHEA helps to boost the immune system, improves chronic fatigue syndrome, helps to reduce body fat, and helps address auto-immune diseases such as lupus, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
DHEA has its own receptor sites. It raises growth hormone levels and breaks down into testosterone, which may possibly be the reason for some of its benefits.
In a six-month placebo-controlled study, male patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) were randomized to DHEA 50 mg twice daily vs. placebo. At three months, the DHEA group showed a trend toward superior cognitive performance compared to the placebo group and this trend lasted until the end of the study (Wolkowitz et al 2003). In a small four-week open study, seven individuals with multi-infarct dementia who received daily intravenous administration of DHEA-S (the sulfated form of DHEA) (200 mg) exhibited significant increases in serum and cerebrospinal fluid levels of DHEA-S, improvements in activities of daily living and less frequent emotional disturbances (Azuma et al 1999). Sourced: Psychology Today
Some consider a low DHEA level to be the most significant biological marker for breast cancer in premenopausal women.
When measuring DHEA levels, the proper lab test is the one that assesses DHEA-S, not DHEA.
DHEA and Men
In men, estradiol levels should be monitored while taking DHEA. Ideally, the estradiol level should not be higher than 20. If it is higher than this to begin with, I do not prescribe DHEA. If the level goes over 40 while the person is on DHEA, I cut back the dosage or the frequency of administration. It is important to discuss taking any supplements with your physician before starting.
When levels of estrogen or testosterone are problematic, another approach is to use a different form of DHEA called 7-keto DHEA. This formulation does not convert into estrogen or testosterone. It can be obtained over the counter; the dosage is 100 mg per day.
DHEA and Stress
People who live with a lot of stress start to show lowered DHEA levels after a certain amount of time. Their adrenal glands become exhausted, and since the adrenal glands produce the majority of DHEA, their DHEA levels go way down. Airline pilots, for instance, whose days consist of meeting strict schedules despite unpredictable weather, performing numerous take-offs and landings (landings often involve split-second timing and near misses), and other stressful situations.
It’s well known that pilots report unusually high levels of prostate cancer. Many of them theorize that this might be caused by the radiation they are constantly exposed to, flying at high altitudes. But it’s my theory that lack of DHEA may contribute to the problem. Another likely cause is lack of progesterone.
Progesterone, like DHEA, diminishes in people who live under constant stress. The most dramatic example is seen in women living in abusive situations. They very often show almost no DHEA on their hormone panels, and they tend to have all the signs of estrogen dominance as well. Living in constant fear depletes both DHEA and progesterone.
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