DHEA is short for Dehydroepiandrosterone. It is the most abundant hormone produced by the adrenal glands. In the body, it is converted to testosterone and estrogen. Production peaks in your early 20's, and declines about 10% every 10 years. This means that those in their 80's produce only 10 - 20% as much as they did in their 20's.
DHEA is the only hormone that declines with age in both men and women. It's decline signals age-related disease. DHEA is said to be effective at improving and preventing many age related diseases, thus being seen as an anti-aging treatment.
Research indicates DHEA therapeutic effects in many chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, disorders of the immune system, depression, and osteoporosis. For each of the medical conditions listed above, there are many studies invariably demonstrating them to be associated with low blood levels of DHEA.
DHEA works in three important ways: it maintains normal sex hormone levels, inhibits the damaging effects of stress, and increases the production of antioxidant enzymes in the liver. Low levels of DHEA can lead to chronic fatigue, weakness, depression, headaches, and leave one susceptible to infections and disease. It's effect on the immune system has led researchers to believe that DHEA may play an important role in fighting AIDS.
Advocates claim that DHEA supplements can improve mood, increase energy and libido, counteract the effects of stress, preserve muscle, strengthen the immune system, and prevent cancer and heart disease. The most immediate and lasting effects of supplementation is an elevated mood and sense of physical well-being.
Another benefit of DHEA is its ability to help the body burn calories for energy rather than store them as fat. DHEA blocks an enzyme named G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase) that is not only essential for fat tissue production but also promotes cancer cell growth.
DHEA has anti-aging properties, because it counteracts the stress hormone, Cortisol, that cannibalizes our body and causes destruction of tissues causing rapid aging. Elizabeth Barrett-Conor, MD, charted DHEA sulfate levels in 242 men, ages 50-79, for twelve years. She observed that 100mcg/dl increase in the DHEA sulfate level was associated with a 36% reduction in death from cardiovascular disease.
French researcher, Dr. Emile-Etienne Baulieu, who isolated DHEA in the 60's, summed up the benefits of the hormone by stating, "DHEA won't make people live longer, but it will improve the quality of life over a longer period of time and will postpone some of the unpleasant effects of aging, such as fatigue and muscle."
Although it cannot be said with absolute certainty, that raising your DHEA levels with supplements will prevent oncoming disease, research may suggests this. The best way to know how much to take is to have your DHEA levels checked by a physician. If you are under 40 you may not need additional DHEA. There are some contraindications for taking supplements; being pregnant, nursing, or having prior ovarian, adrenal or thyroid tumors. Side effects include acne, irritability, fatigue and hirsutism in women. Side effects only occur with doses over 50mg per day. Normal dosages appear quite safe.