DHEA is most commonly used by individuals over 40 to help restore the natural age-related decline of this vitally important pro-hormone. It's reportedly shown to increase sexual energy in both men and women and may even help alleviate male impotence. Recently, it's been used by some younger individuals to help raise testosterone production, which may help increase strength and muscle mass. DHEA isn't for everyone, but it's probably safe to say that the older you are, the more likely your body lacks adequate amounts and the more likely for DHEA supplementation to be beneficial.
Other names for DHEA
Where to find DHEA
DHEA is produced naturally in the brain, skin, and adrenal glands. And, DHEA supplements are produced commercially from wild yams (Dioscorea); however, this process requires a laboratory and six to eight complicated chemical reactions. In other words, our bodies are not able to separate the DHEA from wild yam.
Why athletes use DHEA
While DHEA seems more appealing to aging adults, there is some belief that certain conditions may make it useful for younger people. For example, high-intensity training — especially overtraining — can deplete the body of testosterone. (Remember, DHEA is a precursor to testosterone.) Also, former steroid users often have lowered levels of natural DHEA because their natural production has shut itself off.
- Restore age-related declines of DHEA (and testosterone) levels
- Raise testosterone levels to potentially increase muscle size and strength
Ways that DHEA can enhance Longevity:
- Increase sexual vitality and possibly alleviate male impotence
- Increase the production of immune cells to fight bacteria and viruses
Signs of DHEA deficiency
Although dietary deficiencies do not exist, age deficiencies (arising from the inability to synthesize DHEA within our bodies) may cause a supplemental need for DHEA. Natural DHEA production peaks in our bodies at about the age of 25, when it then begins to diminish quite rapidly until the age of about 60 when our bodies produce only about 10 percent of their previous, youthful levels.
Potential uses for DHEA
Research indicates that DHEA may be useful in the treatment of:
More about DHEA
DHEA serves an array of functions within our bodies, including sexual maturation, erectile function, fat metabolism, immune activation, and cellular energy production. Although a great number of research studies have been conducted on DHEA, little is known as to exactly "how" it actually works in the human body. What is known, however, is that it does have varying degrees of effects on both men and pre- or post-menopausal women. Beyond supporting natural testosterone levels, DHEA could be especially useful for older adults whose natural levels of DHEA have greatly diminished with age.
Why is it important?
DHEA is the primary sex hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is sometimes called the "mother hormone" because it's a precursor to many hormones our bodies need. The raw material for testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and corticosterone, DHEA is, in fact, the most abundant steroidal hormone produced in the body. More loosely stated, as it "floats" through our bloodstreams, DHEA is converted as needed by the body into these other essential hormones.
When we're young, we produce a healthy amount of this hormone, with levels peaking somewhere between the ages of 20 and 25. But with age, levels of DHEA start to decline at an increasing rate. This decrease in DHEA continues until we reach the age of about 60 when levels reach their lowest point of about 10% of the "normal," youthful range. This natural decrease in DHEA production has been shown to attribute to many symptoms of "aging," including lowered immune function, increased fat storage, loss of muscle mass and strength, and decreased energy and stamina.
Researchers have examined DHEA's potential "life-enhancing" effects, and there are a number of studies which indicate it may help adults over the age of 50 combat the above signs of aging. Some scientists believe DHEA's benefits are directly attributable to its ability to raise levels of the masculine hormone testosterone. And in women, DHEA's ability to increase immune functioning combats post-menopausal symptoms.
As we age, we are more susceptible to such challenges as improper immune function and potentially less able to fight off natural, age-related diseases. At this point, science is suggesting this might be due in part to decreased levels of DHEA in the body. DHEA appears to increase the production of immune cells, which fight against a variety of bacteria and viruses, including cancer, and may even help restore proper immune function. It's also been shown in studies to increase energy and stamina in patients lacking physical and psychological well-being.
Widely recognized for its libido-enhancing qualities, DHEA is often taken by people over the age of 40 who feel their sex lives are beginning to "lag." By restoring levels of this important hormone to its youthful peak, many people, male and female, may feel more sexual energy and vitality.
For men, studies show that increasing levels of DHEA, by supplementing with 50 mg a day for 6 months, reduced impotence and other forms of sexual dysfunction, most likely because it increases levels of the masculine hormone testosterone.
For the younger generation
While DHEA seems more appealing to mature adults, there is some belief that certain conditions may make it useful for younger people. For example, high-intensity training — especially overtraining — can deplete the body of testosterone. (Remember, DHEA is a precursor to testosterone.) Also, former steroid users often have lowered levels of DHEA because their natural production has shut itself off. Supplementation may be helpful in these cases. However, research has not yet confirmed this; the evidence is only anecdotal at this time.
This is not to say DHEA is a "wonder nutrient" for defying age or that it is capable of turning one into an overnight sexual sensation or Hercules; rather it may be used to restore the natural age-related decline in levels of this all-important pro-hormone. DHEA isn't for everyone. Unless your body lacks adequate amounts or can't properly manufacture it itself, you probably won't notice much of a difference in sexual energy, immunity, or body-composition enhancement and may just find that you get nothing more than oily skin.
The "best" way to find out if DHEA supplementation might be of benefit for you is to have your DHEA levels checked by your doctor to see if they're low for your age. At any rate, it's probably safe to say that the older you are, the more beneficial supplementing with DHEA may be.
For men, 15 to 50 mg per day in divided doses is the amount reported in studies. Many experts suggest limiting DHEA to under 100 mg per day with an absolute maximum of 300 mg.
Over 300 mg per day does not impart additional benefits but does increase the likelihood of negative side effects.
For women over 40 (it's not needed by younger women), 5 to 25 mg per day is reportedly sufficient.
Pharmaceutical grades are preferable.
For men, one dose in the morning and another before bed is reported to be most effective for raising testosterone levels.
For women, only one dose taken in the morning is recommended.
Synergists of DHEA
DHEA is often combined with Tribulus terrestris and androstenedione to potentially induce "steroid-like" effects and increase levels of testosterone.
Safety of DHEA
If you have a history of prostate or breast cancer, DHEA use is not recommended due to insufficient research on its hormonal effects.
Some people experience increased acne while using DHEA.
Toxicity of DHEA
Adverse effects have been noted at amounts greater than 200 mg per day.
Bans and restrictions
DHEA has been banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Due to DHEA's role as a testosterone precursor, people who may be drug tested would be wise to eliminate this from their nutritional supplement intake.
- Bowers, L.D., "Oral Dehydroepiandrosterone Supplementation Can Increase the Testosterone/Epitestosterone Ratio," Clin Chem 45 (1999) : 295-6.
- Dehennin, L., et al., "Oral Administration of Dehydroepiandrosterone to Healthy Men: Alteration of the Urinary Androgen Profile and Consequences for the Detection of Abuse in Sport by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry," Steroids 63.2 (1998) : 80-7.
- Khorram, O., et al., "Activation of Immune Function by Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in Age-Advanced Men," J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 52.1 (1997) : M1-7.
- Kroboth, P.D., et al., "DHEA and DHEA-S: A Review," J Clin Pharmacol 39.4 (1999) : 327-48.
- Morales, A.J., et al., "Effects of Replacement Dose of Dehydroepiandrosterone in Men and Women of Advancing Age," J Clin Endorcrionol Metab 78.6 (1994) : 1360-7.
- Morales, A.J., et al., "The Effect of Six Months Treatment with a 100 mg Daily Dose of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on Circulating Sex Steroids, Body Composition and Muscle Strength in Age-Advanced Men and Women," Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 49.4 (1998) : 421-32.
- Reiter, W.J., et al., "Dehydroepiandrosterone in the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction: A Prospective, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study," Urology 53.3 (1999) : 590-5.
- Yen, S.S., et al., "Replacement of DHEA in Aging Men and Women, Potential Remedial Effects," Ann N Y Acad Sci 774 (1995) : 128-42.