D H E A
When it comes to DHEA and DHEA supplements, you may immediately think of bodybuilders. That’s because DHEA (technically, dehydroepiandrosterone) is considered a “pro-hormone” tied to longevity, lean muscle mass and a strong body.
But DHEA’s uses go far beyond improving someone’s body composition — it also helps improve bone density, promotes heart health, controls cholesterol levels, fights fatigue and improves production of important sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
What Is DHEA?
Both men and women naturally produce DHEA, a hormone vital in over 150 metabolic functions. It ranks among the most abundant hormones in the human body. The adrenal glands primarily produce it, while men also secrete it from their testes. Once created, the body converts DHEA into various hormones, including androstenedione and sex hormones, earning it the nickname “the parent hormone.”
DHEA acts like a natural anabolic steroid, boosting the production of growth hormones that aid in building lean muscle mass and combating fat accumulation. Due to these benefits, athletes and bodybuilders widely use DHEA supplements. Despite being generally safe, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned them because of their potent effects.
As we age, DHEA levels decline after 30, coinciding with weight gain, sluggishness, lowered libido, and other symptoms related to increased inflammation. DHEA is one of the fastest-decreasing hormones in the human body, making it crucial to preserve it. With each passing decade after 30, DHEA loss accelerates, resulting in individuals producing only about 10 to 20 percent of their original DHEA levels by around age 75.
1. Lowers Inflammation
Inflammation, the root cause of most diseases, is linked to various age-related health issues. Restoring DHEA production through lifestyle habits and supplements can enhance youthful qualities. By reducing inflammation and balancing hormones, DHEA promotes higher energy levels, a leaner body, and increased vitality. Supplemental DHEA elevates hormone levels, prevents autoimmune reactions and mood disorders like depression, thereby improving overall quality of life.
Research reveals that individuals with metabolic syndrome, characterized by high inflammation risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes, tend to have lower DHEA levels. Obese adults also produce less DHEA than their healthy-weight counterparts. Moreover, scientists associate low DHEA levels with inflammatory autoimmune disorders like lupus and arthritis.
Studies on women with autoimmune disorders like lupus and thyroid issues indicate that low DHEA levels negatively impact internal organs, skin, and the immune system. DHEA supplementation may safely alleviate symptoms like aches, ongoing fatigue, and inflammatory skin reactions without significant side effects in many adults.
2. Helps Improve Bone Density and Muscle Mass
DHEA, with its anti-aging effects, actively safeguards against bone loss and reduces the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Besides aging, individuals with thyroid or autoimmune disorders, poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, eating disorders, and hormonal imbalances experience higher rates of bone loss.
Evidence indicates that elevated DHEA levels enhance estrogen production, leading to improved bone mineral density in older or post-menopausal women, who face the highest risk of bone-related conditions.
Despite being added to the banned list by sports organizations like the NCAA, DHEA is not a synthetic steroid or performance enhancer that promotes abnormal muscle growth. Instead, it functions as a repair signal, aiding the body in recovery from intense training and physical activity. Moreover, it supports glucose uptake for energy, facilitates various metabolic functions, and prevents the accumulation of dangerous visceral fat.
3. Protects Against Depression, Cognitive Decline and Mood Swings
According to some studies, higher levels of DHEA may lower rates of major depression and improve overall emotional stability. Research suggests that supplementing with 200 milligrams of DHEA (depending on the individual case) can help lower depression and mood-related symptoms, including loss of pleasure (called anhedonia), loss of energy, lack of motivation, emotional “numbness,” sadness, irritability, inability to cope with stress and excessive worrying.
DHEA helps balance production of other hormones needed to maintain a positive outlook, energy and motivation, such as testosterone and estrogen. It also lowers the risk for many health conditions and symptoms, some of which contribute to depression. These include weight gain, sexual dysfunction, infertility and adrenal insufficiency (a serious condition in which the adrenal glands do not make enough hormones).
According to the National Institute of Health, DHEA can be used to slow or reverse cognitive decline as a result of ageing, including improving thinking skills in older people and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. However, high doses are often needed to achieve these results, which can be risky. Several studies found that taking 100 milligrams of DHEA daily for four weeks might also help improve vision and memory loss in middle-aged and older adults.
4. Aids in Weight Loss and Building Muscle Mass
DHEA supplements are often used to help promote weight loss and to support athletic training with a focus on building lean muscle mass. 7-Keto, one type of DHEA supplement, helps adults maintain strong metabolism levels while aiding in the prevention of age-associated fat gain and muscle loss. It’s certainly not a magic bullet for weight loss, but it can be helpful for some people.
While calorie intake and energy expenditure are important factors involved in managing your weight, hormones play a crucial role, too. DHEA helps improve the body’s natural ability to use energy and burn fat, two metabolic processes that usually decline as someone ages. DHEA helps shuttle glucose to cells for energy, reduce insulin levels and stimulate fat burning. As I mentioned earlier, DHEA improves lean muscle mass. This helps you more efficiently burn calories, even while resting.
5. Improves Heart Health and Lowers Diabetes Risk
Acquiring more DHEA is linked to a lower risk of clogged arteries, blood clots, high cholesterol, heart disease and insulin resistance/diabetes in adults, although researchers still aren’t exactly sure why. DHEA may improve blood vessel function and reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes by lowering inflammation, supporting a healthy metabolism, improving use of glucose and insulin and improving production of sex hormones.
Results of studies suggest that DHEA protects against the increase in dangerous visceral fat and the development of insulin resistance induced by a poor diet and lifestyle. Other research shows DHEA plays a protective role in the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and coronary heart disease by interfering with atherogenic processes and enzymes such as glucoso-6-phosphate dehydrogenase.
6. Decreases Sexual Dysfunction and Can Improve Libido
Although it’s not fool-proof or without risk for side effects, DHEA has helped many people overcome sexual dysfunctions, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, hormonal imbalances and menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness. Study results over the years have been mixed, but some research demonstrates that lower levels of DHEA occur in men with erectile dysfunction. DHEA supplementation can benefit both men and women with various symptoms related to declining sex hormones, according to some studies.
Low testosterone and hormone deficiency in men (also sometimes called partial androgen deficiency) contribute to problems like aches, pains, weight gain, loss of functioning and sexual problems, but some research suggests that taking 200 milligrams of DHEA daily for one year might improve these symptoms.
Other evidence shows that taking DHEA for six months helps lower sexual symptoms related to nerve damage and diabetes, such as impotence. Women taking 100 milligrams of DHEA daily could see a decrease in certain menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and weight gain.