DHEA – Dehydroepiandrosterone: Other Name, Background, and 5 Health Benefits

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Other Names of Dehydroepiandrosterone: Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, DHEA-S, 5-androsten-3 β-ol-17-one, Prasterone

Background of Dehydroepiandrosterone

Dehydroepiandrosterone is one of the several hormones produced by the testes, ovaries and predominantly by the adrenal glands – small hormone-producing glands located above the kidneys. Once DHEA is secreted, it then circulates into the bloodstream as DHEA sulfate. DHEA could also be converted into other necessary steroid hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.

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In the past years, many medical experts became interested in DHEA due to the reports that it could play a role in the aging process. At age twenty-five, the levels of DHEA are at its peak and gradually decline with age. According to studies, the levels of DHEA for people in their 70s tend to be about 75 percent lower than groups of young adults.

Since DHEA are not found in food, one cannot be dietary deficient of DHEA. However, some people are unable to synthesize appropriate amounts of DHEA.

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Various studies suggest that low levels of Dehydroepiandrosterone are associated with health conditions such as adrenal insufficiencies, depression, multi-infarct dementia and rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure, asthma and HIV. Therefore, these studies suggest that DHEA supplementation could be useful for these conditions.

Some medical investigators consider DHEA as a promising anti-aging hormone since DHEA deficiencies in the elderly have been linked with various health conditions including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, mental malfunction and impaired memory.

Although several studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of DHEA have a tendency to live longer and healthier lives, it does not necessarily mean that supplementation of DHEA could reduce the risks of these conditions.

In 1985, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) banned DHEA supplements from the market because of false claims about its health benefits.

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However, when the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed in 1994, DHEA supplements were put back into the market and continued to grow its popularity.

Despite the popularity of DHEA supplements, the supports for the health claims are insufficient.

DHEA Supplement Suggested Treatments:

  • Changes the severity of patients with Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lessens the symptoms associated with diabetes
  • Decreases the pain of arthritis
  • Reduces the risks of obesity
  • Lowers the possibility of breast cancer
  • Helps in treating atherosclerosis and heart disease
  • Reduces the need for medication among patients with lupus
  • Delays the progression of Crohn’s disease
  • Treats depression
  • Suspends erectile dysfunction
  • Improves schizophrenia
  • Alleviates the symptoms of menopause
  • Reduces the risks of osteoporosis
  • Improves the symptoms of depression

Health Benefits of Dehydroepiandrosterone

Although the effectiveness and safety of DHEA supplements have not been proven, there have been studies involving both human and animals in relations to health conditions such as:

1. Adrenal insufficiency

Several studies suggest that DHEA supplements could improve the quality of life, sex drive, hormone levels and exercise tolerance of people with insufficient adrenal function such as Addison’s disease. However, since these studies have been small and not well-designed, further researches are needed to support these claims.

2. Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a condition wherein the patient experience cholesterol plagues or hardening of the arteries. Initial studies have reported potential therapeutic benefits of DHEA supplements in atherosclerosis patients.  However, further quality studies are needed for a clear conclusion to be drawn.

3. Aging

Since the DHEA levels of an individual declines with advancing age, medical experts have examined whether DHEA supplements can slow down or prevent the age-related decline in physical and mental functions.

Although there have been many studies in this area, the results have been conflicting. Some studies suggest that DHEA improves memory and learning abilities in people with low DHEA levels, yet other studies were unable to observe any positive effects for DHEA supplements. Further research is needed to determine if DHEA supplements could help prevent and/or slow down various conditions associated with the aging process.

4. Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are more likely to have bone fractures and may develop osteoporosis at a younger age. Medical experts have observed that young adults with this condition tend to have low DHEA levels. Some suggest that DHEA could help in protecting the anorexic patients against bone loss.

5. Lupus (Autoimmune disorders)

Autoimmune diseases are health conditions wherein an individual’s antibodies attack their own body part because the immune systems believe the part is foreign. Some studies have shown that DHEA supplements could help in regulating the immune system as well as treating or preventing certain autoimmune diseases.

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Possible Side Effects of Dehydroepiandrosterone

DHEA supplementation is a concern among medical experts because there are no long-term studies that could ensure its safety.

When a person consumes over 50 to 200mg of DHEA supplements per day, he or she may experience side effects such as increased facial hair, increased perspiration and acne.

DHEA supplements were also reported to cause breast tenderness, oily skin, mood alteration, menstrual irregularity and weight gain.

Some studies have reported an increase in testosterone levels for both men and women. Significant increases in testosterone may enhance the risks of several cancers.

Insufficient information about how DHEA supplements could affect cancer provides a reason for caution. Until well-designed studies have proven its safety, people diagnosed with prostate or breast cancer and those with family history of these conditions should avoid DHEA supplementations.

Summary of Dehydroepiandrosterone

DHEA, which is secreted by the adrenal glands, is considered as the most abundant androgen. DHEA supplements are available in tablets, capsules, chewing gums, drops, intravenous and topical forms.

As a supplement, it has been known to play a role in the aging process and athletic performance. Studies suggest that it may help or prevent health conditions such as adrenal insufficiency, impotence, osteoporosis, anorexia nervosa, lupus, HIV, depression, obesity, menopause and inflammatory bowel disease.

Although DHEA has become popular throughout the years, especially with bodybuilders, no studies on its long-term effects have been conducted. Therefore, supplementation of DHEA should only be consumed for regular use with the supervision of a licensed health professional.

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