DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, an important endogenous steroid hormone. It is the most abundant circulating steroid in the human body, where it functions predominantly as a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the androgen and estrogen sex steroids. DHEA also has a variety of potential biological effects in its own right, binding to an array of nuclear and cell surface receptors, and acting as a neurosteroid.
DHEA levels decline at approximately 20% per decade from the age of 25 (the peak of human DHEA production) until we are left with only about 10% or less of these peak levels by the time we are 70. Maintaining healthy DHEA levels may help slow physical ageing and reduce stress.
DHEA may also have an important role in the repair and maintenance of cognitive function
Benefits of DHEA supplementation include extended life, higher energy levels, disease resistance, slowing of the ageing process, reducing the ill effects of stress, enhancing the sex drive and decreasing body fat whilst increasing lean muscle tissue. Apart from these general benefits of DHEA, it can also be useful in the prevention and treatment of several serious health disorders, including: Alzheimer’s disease (AD), viral and bacterial infections, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and all autoimmune disorders. The benefits will be greater and more pronounced when DHEA is used in conjunction with a complete health maintenance programme, such as discussed in the article Removal of blocks to health improvement
The Adrenal Hormone Tree
Several hormones produced by the adrenal cortex are produced one from the other. The main starting compound is cholesterol. Cholesterol is an essential nutrient and low cholesterol diets and especially cholesterol lowering drugs are simply bad for the health and have no cardiovascular disease protecting effect (see the cholesterol myth article here
). The ‘mother’ hormone; pregnenolone, is produced from cholesterol, this is converted to DHEA and progesterone. Progesterone helps produce cortisol (hydrocortisone). DHEA converts to Androstenedione and this in turn can help produce both cortisol and testosterone. The production of cortisol and other adrenal cortex hormones are mediated by the secretion of ACTH from the Pituitary gland in the centre of the brain. If this chain of events with its complex feedback mechanism does not operate efficiently at any stage, then hormone imbalance, usually insufficiency, occurs. Therefore, the reasons for DHEA, cortisol, testosterone or progesterone insufficiency can vary from person to person. Often boosting the mother hormone pregnenolone does not achieve raising of DHEA or cortisol levels sufficiently to overcome an insufficiency of those hormones. Raising DHEA however will often raise insufficient levels of cortisol and testosterone for example. Usually, if people suffer from adrenal fatigue more than one hormone needs supplementing to raise the levels of these hormones to optimum, hence achieving the best clinical result.
The success of the appropriate hormone supplementation lies in ones overall nutritional status. The most foundational things for success are sufficient water and sufficient unrefined, high mineral, salt such as Celtic Ocean Sea Salt. Please see the important article Removal of blocks to health improvement for a detailed guide to achieving optimum nutritional status.
The further back in the hormonal tree we can alleviate deficiency the better. In practice this means DHEA is the most broad acting hormone to boost. However, if we want to work more speedily or reliably on a pressing health concern, then the most immediate hormone implicated can be tried first (such as cortisol in the case of auto-immune disorders, or progesterone in the case of post-menopausal and pre-menstrual issues). In cases where testosterone seems to be indicated, such as lowered vitality in the over 55 year old male, it is not such an urgent issue so one may make a sensible choice to supplement with DHEA first and this often contributes successfully to testosterone sufficiency. Once one has reached and maintained a suitable dose of DHEA for a few weeks one is then in a better position to assess and test for effects of testosterone supplementation, and often the dosage required will be less subsequent to DHEA supplementation.
Whilst pregnenolone comes before DHEA in the hormone tree, it's ability to convert to DHEA in most individuals is subject to individual experimentation. Therefore, in practice, DHEA is the immediate mother adrenal hormone and an insufficiency in this hormone will result in insufficiency in the other adrenal cortex hormones. This will result in an increased tendency to disease and premature ageing. The Baltimore longitudinal study found that men who had higher DHEA levels have significantly greater longevity compared to men with lower levels. Further, an Italian study found a direct relationship between functional independence in people over 90 years old and DHEA levels. DHEA also effects mood and mentality. DHEA supplementation has been found to help prevent depression and improve the mood in individuals with formerly low DHEA levels. Positive results include improved self esteem, mood and reduction in fatigue. In women low DHEA levels were found to be significantly associated with depression at any age.
DHEA is also a precursor to the hormone estrogen.
To achieve peak levels of DHEA the table below is an approximate guide, but requirements will vary with the size/weight of the person and their overall health status. For example, those with chronic health problems usually have levels of DHEA below the typical level for a healthy person of their age. The table details the amounts needed to "top-up" to peak levels for healthy individuals. Once a person is aged 60 and above the levels are so low that the top up dose for sick and healthy individuals is similar, as we aim to produce the DHEA levels found at their peak around the age of 25 years.
As noted in the above table, the absolute maximum recommended daily dose for men is 50mg and 35mg for women. This would typically be for a large person over 60 years of ag
For those supplementing at higher levels than these recommendations (autoimmune conditions etc), ideally a saliva hormone assay test should be undertaken. These are available by mail order but are quite expensive and tests results from one lab to another may vary and not be reliable. Therefore one needs to pay attention and self monitor, keeping an eye out for side effects that can occur due to hormone imbalance. This tends to occur more at higher doses. If dosing at the higher levels of the recommended range, watch for any adverse effects, such as (but not exclusively) the following:
|Unusual feelings of anger
|Breast swelling or tenderness
|Changes to the menstrual cycle
|Excessive hair loss
|Hair growing in abnormal areas
Side effects are quite rare at lower levels and at levels appropriate for age, so the main concern here is for people below 45 using higher levels. If any of these side effects occur, reducing dose will alleviate them. DHEA is very safe, especially at the dosage levels given in the table above. Side effects can be part of the adaptation process so give it time before assuming DHEA is responsible. As with all powerful therapeutic agents and remedies, adaptation is a process that will often cause some adverse symptoms for a short time. Please see the short article here
for more details. During this adaptation phase the body often requires more water and sufficient unrefined, high mineral, salt such as Celtic Ocean Sea Salt
. If you are not consuming enough unrefined salt this process of adaptation is more taxing and ultimately you may not be able to raise your dose of DHEA to the most potentially beneficial levels.
Detailed Dose Guidelines
Start at a low dose and build gradually (over a few weeks, or as personal comfort dictates, depending on your individual needs). This is because DHEA will up-rate your whole system to a higher level of energy and functioning and many biochemical changes will take place as the body adapts to the increased availability of DHEA.
Trial and error of dose is required and this may take several weeks or longer. It should be noted that cortisol
requirements may rise during the adaptation phase. Those with health issues, especially autoimmune disorders, may need to make sure that they have adequate cortisol output prior to supplementing with DHEA. Please see the article: Health Restoration: The Necessity to Support Adrenal Hormone Output
for details of how to test for adequate cortisol output and if needed, how to supplement it. However, testing should be ongoing, as to make things a little more complex, supplementing with DHEA may in some cases improve cortisol output, as DHEA is converted by the body into several hormones including cortisone, cortisol, testosterone, progesterone and estrogen.