DHEA Puts the Brakes on Aging— NATURALLY!
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a natural hormone that’s critical for good health and vitality. Chronic stress and illness can drive your DHEA levels too low, yet few doctors test for deficient levels. As a result many patients just like you are left to suffer with troubling symptoms and no answers.
Your adrenal glands produce most of your DHEA. The testes in men and ovaries in premenopausal women, and the brains of both sexes produce the critical hormone in smaller amounts. In addition, your body uses cholesterol to form the hormone pregnenolone which is then converted into DHEA. (Yet one more reason to NOT suppress your cholesterol levels too low as is often the case with cholesterol lowering statin drugs.)
As with most hormones, DHEA levels drop with time. By the time you turn 80 your DHEA levels will have dropped by up to 90 percent compared to what they were in young adulthood. And as our levels drop we start to see the effects.
DHEA in many ways works as a synergistic twin to the other stress hormone cortisol. It helps the body adapt to stress more efficiently. This includes physical, mental, and emotional stress. Studies show that declining DHEA levels are linked to allergies, inflammation, fatigue, autoimmune issues, sexual dysfunction, infections, insomnia, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, bone loss, depression and cancer.
Age-defying DHEA is both beneficial AND safe
Proper hormone balance is critical to good health, which is why testing is so important. I remember testing my own DHEA level right after finishing medical school almost 25 years ago. All the years of long days and late nights while I was in school had taken their toll and my DHEA had bottomed out (like most of my classmates I’m sure). I turned to DHEA supplements and found that within just a matter of days my energy level and focus were bouncing back. I still use DHEA supplements from time to time today.
I’ve spoken to a shocking number of patients over the years whose conventional doctors had made them feel paranoid about even trying DHEA supplementation. They’d been told that DHEA is dangerous and their heads had been filled with tales of terrible side effects including hair loss, acne and even cancer. Although this propaganda isn’t even supported by the supplement-hating FDA—which hasn’t come up with a bad thing to say about DHEA—it hasn’t stopped misinformed doctors from scaring their patients with it. And this fear-mongering extends to conventional medicine websites that caution people about the dangers of DHEA use while they continue to endorse a ton of dangerous drugs.
DHEA gives your bones and your libido a boost
Studies have shown that DHEA supplementation is both beneficial and safe. For example, a double-blind placebo controlled study published back in 2000 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at the benefits of daily DHEA supplementation in 280 healthy volunteers (women and men 60-79 years old). Participants were given 50 mg of DHEA or a placebo daily for a year.
The study’s authors concluded that, “No potentially harmful accumulation of DHEAS and active steroids was recorded.” They established that DHEA supplementation “normalized some effects of aging.” More specifically they found improved bone density in women over the age of 70, improved libido, and healthier skin. Researchers noted that overall, “Low concentrations of DHEA are associated with immunosenescence (breakdown of the immune system as people age), physical frailty, decline in muscle mass, increased mortality, loss of sleep, diminished feelings of well-being and impaired ability to cope, and occur in several common diseases (including cancer, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.”1
DHEA could be key to keeping your ticker ticking
In the past two years there have been several studies demonstrating that DHEA has a protective effect against heart disease. Last year a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that low blood levels of DHEA were a significant risk for major coronary heart disease for elderly men.2 Then in the journal Stroke, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health reported an association between lower levels of DHEA and a greater risk of stroke in older women. The women whose DHEA levels were among the lowest—25 percent of the participants—had a 33 percent higher risk of having a stroke.3
Boost your brainpower and mellow your mood naturally
Research has shown that DHEA supports healthy cognitive function and mood. The hormone supports the production and functioning of the neurotransmitters in your brain, the chemicals that affect memory and mood. In fact, the concentration of DHEA in your central nervous system is much higher than is found in your blood!
DHEA has also been found to have regenerative properties on brain tissues. People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of certain nerve-protecting growth factors. But DHEA is able to help shield delicate brain tissues by preserving those important growth factors including IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1), VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) and TGF-β (transforming growth factor-beta). In addition, DHEA lowers levels of the brain-cell damaging stress hormone known as cortisol. Plus, several studies have confirmed that DHEA supplementation improves cognitive function.
People with low DHEA levels are more susceptible to anxiety and depression and studies have shown that DHEA supplements can help ease both conditions.
DHEA’s link to strong bones and balanced blood sugar
I see a lot of patients who have osteoporosis. There are many factors involved with brittle bones—and hormone deficiency, including low levels of DHEA, is one of those. DHEA is critical to bone metabolism. Studies with senior women have shown that DHEA supplementation improves bone mineral density within one to two years of starting treatment.
Diabetics are often found to have low DHEA levels. In fact, one study found that an astounding 77 percent of men with type 2 diabetes had low levels.4
This is a problem because the hormone plays an important role in improving insulin resistance allowing cells to take up glucose more effectively.
Strengthen your immune system
DHEA is also critical for a strong immune system. When you suffer from chronic stress your cortisol levels skyrocket and your immune system can become suppressed as a result. But healthy DHEA levels can counterbalance this effect, propping up your immunities and helping to keep you healthy. There’s even some research hinting that DHEA could play a role in fighting autoimmune conditions, especially Lupus erythematosus.5
Healthy hormone levels support a healthy sex life
Similar to the hormone testosterone, DHEA is vital for healthy sexual function in both men and women. It improves sexual desire in both sexes. In one study researchers found that 50 mg of DHEA improved sexual function in men without having any adverse effects on their PSA level or prostate size.6 And in postmenopausal women vaginal DHEA suppositories have been shown to help with vaginal atrophy and sexual function.7,8
Lastly, there are more than a dozen studies showing that declining levels of DHEA are associated with a greater likelihood of death due to various causes. In other words, DHEA supports so many systems of the body that a major deficiency can contribute to a number of diseases.
As with all hormones I recommend people test their DHEA levels. To check your levels your doctor will likely run a DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S) blood test before nine in the morning (although the test is still generally accurate if given later in the day). But DHEA levels can also be checked using saliva and urine tests.
If you find that your levels are low there are a number of steps you can take to raise them. The best place to start is making improvements in your diet. Your body uses cholesterol to make DHEA so foods that are rich in a variety of healthy fats such as coconut milk, organic butter, and flax, can give your body the raw materials it needs to produce the hormone. Also, make sure to get enough sleep and exercise regularly. And finally, the herb ashwagandha (originally from India and now readily available here in the US) has been shown to significantly increase DHEA levels.
If your DHEA levels are low and you’re experiencing chronic fatigue, autoimmune issues, a low libido, erectile dysfunction, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, or poor cognitive function then I strongly recommend you consider a DHEA supplement. A typical supplemental dosage is 25 to 50 mg for men and 5 to 15 mg for women.
Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant should avoid taking DHEA. Also women with breast cancer or a history of breast cancer and men with prostate cancer should consult with their physician before trying a DHEA supplement.
Clearing up the cancer “connection”
DHEA is converted into testosterone and estrogen within the body. Theoretically this has the potential to slightly increase the levels of these hormones which could have a negative effect on cancer and cardiovascular disease risk. However, several studies have shown little to no increase in blood levels in people taking 50 to 200 mg of DHEA daily. In addition, there are studies that have shown DHEA actually has anticancer and cardioprotective effects.
1. Baulieu EE. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA sulfate, and aging: contribution of the DHEAge Study to a sociobiomedical issue. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Apr 11;97(8):4279-84.
2. Tivesten A. Dehydroepiandrosterone and its sulfate predict the 5-year risk of coronary heart disease events in elderly men. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Oct 28;64(17):1801-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.05.07
3. Rexrode, M. Low dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate is associated with increased risk of ischemicstroke among women. Stroke. 2013 Jul;44(7):1784-9. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.000485.
4. Ponikowska B, Jankowska EA, Maj J, et al. Gonadal and adrenal androgen deficiencies as independent predictors of increased cardiovascular mortality in men with type II diabetes mellitus and stable coronary artery disease. Int J Cardiol. 2010 Sep 3;143(3):343-8.
5. Crosbie D, Black C, McIntyre L, Royle PL, Thomas S. Dehydroepiandrosterone for systemic lupus erythematosus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Oct 17;(4):CD005114.
6. Reiter WJ, Pycha A, Schatzl G, Pokorny A, Gruber DM, Huber JC, Marberger M. Dehydroepiandrosterone in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: a prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebocontrolled study. Urology. 1999 Mar;53(3):590-4; discussion 594-5.
7. Genazzani AR, Stomati M, Valentino V, Pluchino N, Pot E, Casarosa E, Merlini S, Giannini A, Luisi M. Effect of 1-year, low-dose DHEA therapy on climacteric symptoms and female sexuality. Climacteric. 2011 Dec;14(6):661-8.
8. Labrie F, Archer D, Bouchard C, Fortier M, Cusan L, Gomez JL, Girard G, Baron M, Ayotte N, Moreau M, Dubé R, Côté I, Labrie C, Lavoie L, Berger L, Gilbert L, Martel C, Balser J. Effect of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (Prasterone) on libido and sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal wom en. Menopause. 2009 Sep-Oct; 16(5):923-31