Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a naturally produced precursor hormone in our body which means it has little effect on its own but has powerful impacts when converted into other hormones like testosterone and estrogen. DHEA is produced by the adrenal gland, and in turn, helps produce other hormones. DHEA production peaks during adolescence and then slowly decreases with age.
DHEA is produced from cholesterol mainly by the outer layer of the adrenal gland and also by the ovaries and testes in small amounts. DHEA production is controlled by a negative feedback loop system. This means that when DHEA is reduced to a certain level in the body the system is switched on and when levels rise it is switched off.
DHEA is important for producing estrogen and testosterone, which are the main sex hormones in males and females. Estrogen and testosterone are responsible for giving us our distinctive male or female characteristics. These hormones are not only responsible for our reproductive system, physical and sexual development, but also determines our bone strength, muscle mass distribution, and many other important functions. As we age, the DHEA level tends to decrease in the body. Low levels of DHEA are associated with heart disease, depression, and mortality.
Low DHEA levels have been associated with a shorter lifespan in men. A decrease in DHEA levels may also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases in men with type 2 diabetes.
In women, low DHEA levels are associated with low bone density, osteoporosis, and lack of libido.
Women with high DHEA levels tend to have polycystic ovaries (PCOS) and hirsutism (unwanted, male pattern hair growth in women). Children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia also have high DHEA levels. Patients with adrenal gland cancers may also have high DHEA levels.
A blood test can determine high or low cortisol levels in your blood, and your doctor will decide the treatment. Alternatively, you can collect saliva to look at your cortisol profile throughout the day. At Coast to Coast Compounding, we can provide you with an at-home testing kit. Speak with one of our knowledgeable pharmacists or your healthcare provider for more information on using one of these testing kits. Click here for more information on how to get your hormones tested.
A synthetic version of DHEA is available as a supplement in an oral and topical cream formulation. DHEA supplements claim to ward off aging, treat depression, strengthen bones, and even help weight loss, but there is little research to confirm these benefits. Some athletes and bodybuilders also take DHEA supplements for enhancing their physical performance and increasing muscle mass and strength. However, these supplements may have some serious side effects, and the World Anti-Doping Agency has banned the use of DHEA supplements. Lifestyle modifications such as exercise and calorie restrictions have been shown to increase natural DHEA levels in the body.