Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a natural hormone in the body. It is responsible for a variety of functions contributing to better health. As we age, levels of DHEA decline, making many wonder if supplements can help.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural hormone in the body and offers a variety of health benefits. As we age, natural levels drop significantly, increasing the chances of health problems. According to research, supplementation may slow aging, improve fertility and improve medical issues such as osteoporosis and mental health.
What is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone is an abundant steroid hormone naturally made in the adrenal glands that triggers cells and tissue into action. The body utilizes this hormone to produce the male and female sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. (1)
The production of DHEA is at its highest in the twenties and thirties, but as we age, levels drop. For this reason, supplements may be beneficial for health and anti-aging. (2)
According to studies (3), the drop may cause health issues common with agingâfor example, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurological disorders.
Low Levels of DHEA
Studies show falling DHEA may increase osteoporosis risk, impacting bone health, especially in postmenopausal women. Understanding and addressing low levels mitigate these health concerns and promote overall well-being. Individuals experiencing symptoms or who are concerned about their DHEA levels should consult a healthcare professional for appropriate evaluation and guidance.
Benefits of DHEA
DHEA is sometimes referred to as the hormone of youth (4). This is because it has shown promise in treating a variety of health concerns, including:
Relief From Depression
Depression is a disorder that impacts thoughts, feelings and actions. According to studies, (5)(6) individuals with clinical depression tend to have low levels of DHEA. Supplementation may help to improve symptoms.
Healthy Aging Skin
DHEA may enhance the appearance of aging skin by helping to restore testosterone and estrogen levels. This, in turn, contributes to firmer, thicker skin, resulting in a more youthful appearance. (7)
Increased Libido and Fertility
Since DHEA affects testosterone and estrogen (8)(9), it's unsurprising that it can also increase libido and fertility. According to one study, (10) women over the age of 38 going through IVF were more likely to get pregnant if given DHEA.
Relieves Painful Intercourse
When women reach menopause, vaginal dryness can lead to painful sex, which can interfere with relationships and cause distress. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Intrarosa (prasterone), a form of DHEA that helps decrease vaginal dryness and, ultimately, painful sex. (11)
Osteoporosis is the weakening of the bones caused by a drop in estrogen levels, mainly in postmenopausal women. According to research, DHEA can help to restore estrogen levels, minimizing or eliminating the onset of osteoporosis. (12)
Slows Adrenal Insufficiency
The adrenal glands are the primary producers of DHEA and sit just over the kidneys. One problem for some people is that their adrenal glands don't produce enough hormones.
This can lead to weakness, fatigue, and changes in blood pressure and may be life-threatening if not controlled. (13) According to studies, (14) a DHEA supplement can treat adrenal insufficiency and improve overall quality of life. (15)
Increased Weight Loss, Slows Weight Gain
Research suggests this hormone may affect weight loss in both men and women. As a natural hormone produced in the adrenal glands, DHEA plays a role in metabolism and energy regulation.
Some studies have explored the potential of supplementation in promoting weight loss by influencing body composition and fat distribution. DHEA's impact on hormonal balance, including testosterone and estrogen, could contribute to changes in muscle mass and fat storage.
DHEA and Aging
DHEA has various benefits for health and aging, such as improved skin hydration that can reduce the look of wrinkles. It may also reduce osteoporosis risk and improve body composition and cognitive function. However, there isn't confirmed research that shows it as a viable anti-aging solution. (16)
DHEA and Its Influence on Sleep
While DHEA gains attention for its benefits related to aging, skin health, and libido, its role in sleep quality shouldn't be overlooked. Adequate sleep is a critical component of overall health, and DHEA might play a part in achieving restful nights.
As we age, sleep disturbances and disorders become more prevalent, often contributing to a decline in overall well-being. Some studies suggested that DHEA could positively impact sleep, especially those experiencing age-related sleep issues.
DHEA's potential benefits on sleep may include:
- Regulating Circadian Rhythms: This hormone influences the body's internal clock, helping to regulate circadian rhythms. This regulation can lead to improved sleep patterns and more restorative rest.
- Stress Reduction: Stress and elevated cortisol levels can significantly disrupt well-being. DHEA may counterbalance these effects by reducing the impact of cortisol, potentially leading to lower stress levels and better sleep quality. DHEA may help regulate levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Enhanced Sleep Duration: Some individuals report that DHEA supplementation has increased sleep duration. While more research is needed in this area, it suggests a possible link between it and extended more restful sleep.
- Combating Sleep Disorders: DHEA's ability to influence hormonal balance can also extend to hormones involved in sleep regulation, such as melatonin. It may be beneficial for those suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia.
The effects of DHEA on sleep can vary from person to person. While some may experience improved sleep, others might not notice significant changes. Factors like dosage, individual physiology, and underlying health conditions can all play a role.
Dosage: How Much Should You Take?
When looking for DHEA supplements, you'll be able to find them in a variety of forms. These include tablets, capsules, creams, and intravaginal suppositories. Make sure to follow dosage recommendations accurately. For instance, an oral DHEA in the form of a tablet, a 50 mg dose once daily, is common.
Side Effects of DHEA
While generally considered safe when taking a dose of 50 mg once per day, as with any medication, you may experience side effects.
If you take too much, one of the main concerns is how testosterone and estrogen may be affected. When levels become too high, you can experience adverse effects. (18) Since hormonal changes impact various systems, it's best to consult with your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement.
Other common side effects of DHEA can include: (19)
- Stomach issues
- Oily skin
- Male-pattern baldness
- Abnormal hair growth
- Abnormal breast growth in men
Caution: When to Avoid Taking DHEA
- Nursing mothers
- Individuals with a history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, liver disease, thyroid disorders, PCOS, hormonal disorders, cancers and psychiatric disorders.
For athletes who may be competing, it's important to note:
According to the regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), athletes who use DHEA can be eliminated from competition. (22)
Possible Interaction Caused by Taking Medication and DHEA
Whether prescribed or over the counter, interaction with all medications is possible. DHEA isn't any different. While this isn't a comprehensive list, don't take it with the following medications due to the possibility of serious interactions. (23)
- Blood thinners
- Estrogen-sensitive cancer medications
- Herbal supplements that can affect blood clotting
Taking medicines and supplements can make them less effective and increase the chances of an interaction. Awareness of all your medications and supplements is vital, especially if you have health issues and see multiple medical professionals. (24) Before adding any supplement, consult with your medical provider.
DHEA is naturally produced in the body, but levels decline as we age, which, according to some studies, can be responsible for various age-related health problems. While it shows promise for some issues, it hasn't been proven to reverse aging.
TRT and DHEA
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