DHEA Supplements and the Supposed Fountain of Youth



DHEA Supplements: A Short Intro

Before I start with this, it's important to remember that DHEA is a hormone. Providing yourself with more DHEA than you need will put your body into a hormonal imbalance resulting in physical, mental and possibly social problems any of which can be lethal. It's important to use extreme caution when using such a supplement - you should only do so when supervised by a physician.

There's no such thing as a magic pill or supplement and DHEA is no exception (there are no exceptions!).

Now that we have that info in our heads, let's try to get an understanding of what DHEA is...

DHEA (short for dehydroepiandosterone) is one of the many prohormones that your body produces. A prohormone is a precursor to other hormones. In other words, your body makes other critical hormones from DHEA such as testosterone, estrogen and corticosteroids (the stress hormone that your body produces on its own).

Out of the hundreds of hormones and prohormones produce by the adrenal glands (an endocrine organ that literally rests on top of each kidney), DHEA is the most abundant. Once released, DHEA travels through the bloodstream and localizes to tissues that present a need for the prohormone (such as the prostate or ovary). A minute amount of DHEA is also made by nerves in the brain, so DHEA supplementats may also have effects on brain function.

Unfortunately, as with all other hormonal supplements, DHEA has been hyped up beyond belief and has become popular among bodybuilders and recreational weight lifters. You'll even read on bodybuilding websites that it's safe, along with all other types of testosterone or hormone-boosting supplements. The fact is that they're also trying to sell you the product - they're simply more interested in fattening their own wallets than keeping your body safe. From the prospective of retailers, there're obviously no side effects.

Companies claim that DHEA can "supercharge" your hormonal system to help build muscle, burn fat, reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other age-related disorders. This is just a nice way to say "hormonal imbalance" that can have serious side effects.

DHEA has been unrightfully celebrated as a sort of "fountain of youth". I actually find it kind of amusing as to how this came about. Basically, it was found that as one ages, the level of DHEA in the blood gradually decreases. Therefore, DHEA must be related to the effects of aging. It would seem natural to believe that DHEA supplements would reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, wrinkles, mounting debt, having grandchildren and the progression of time. Einstein may of discovered the fourth dimension and the relationship between space and time, but remember, he never came up with the time machine!

I know I'm poking a little fun at it, but it's just like saying that the increasing height of a child increases his or her risk of aging. The point I'm trying to make here is that things happen naturally when we age. What about inactivity? Doesn't this correspond with obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease? As we age, we also become more sessile individuals - this is because our bodies become tired!

The aorta (the large artery coming directly out of the heart) becomes less elastic, meaning increasing blood pressure leading to hypertension. Your cartilage cushioning your bones deteriorate, making certain movements more painful (arthritis). Immune function decreases because the thymus, which produces all of your T cells when you're young, deteriorates before we've reached the age of 20. There're tons of reasons why we age - there's no single pill or supplement that will reverse this natural progression of time and how it relates to bodily function. You can take that to the bank.

When you start messing with hormones, your body does not know how to respond. There are side effects to taking DHEA - is it really worth it to you?

Granted there are medical studies out there looking for ways to use the hormone in the treatment of certain conditions such as adrenal insufficiency and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). But, taking DHEA as a hormonal supplement with the prospect of feeling or looking younger and stronger is definitely not recommended at this time.

Let's say you're a man supplementing DHEA to help yourself build muscle (by increasing your levels of testosterone). The increased level of sex hormone in your body can result in acne, increased male breast size, decreased sperm count, agitation (as in "roid rage"), hair loss, promotion of tumor growth (a.k.a. cancer) along with a heightened risk of prostate cancer. But, after all, you're building about 3% more muscle than you would without the supplement, so it must be worth it!

What happens when you stop taking DHEA? Well, your body will become accustomed to being given the hormone. In other words, your hormone-seeking tissues will be expecting to see DHEA at certain times in the day (depending on when you take the supplements). So, in essence, what's the point of your body wasting energy to make sex hormones when it already gets enough in your supplements? Your body is adapted to survival and no energy is wasted. There's no reason for your body to produce DHEA when you're taking supplements - so your adrenal glands and nerves stop producing the prohormone.

Remember that DHEA is a precursor to other hormones? When you stop taking DHEA, what do you think happens to the hormones it produces (testosterone, progesterone, aldosterone, estrogen, and so on)? That's right, it drops significantly. This is never a good thing.

The fact is that there're very few studies that show any sort of improvement after supplementing with DHEA. The potential for serious problems seriously hinders any potential progress. It's simply not worth the risk!


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Side Effects of DHEA

If you already have normal levels of DHEA and start supplementing, expect to see some problems. Some of these include...

  • Heart palpitations and arrhythmia: potentially lethal

  • Increased risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer

  • Extensive acne due to the increased dosage of androgens (sex hormones)

  • Possible dermatitis of the scalp

  • Frequent agitation (as in "roid rage") or sleepless nights

  • Irregular menstrual cycles

  • Hair loss (due to the increase in dihydrotestosterone in the hair follicles)
  • These are typical side effects to taking daily DHEA supplements, especially in large doses in excess of 10mg per day. When people stop taking the supplement, the side effects cease. When they start taking the supplement again, the side effects reappear.

    Here's a question that was posed by one of your fellow viewers concerning this issue...it's quite valid.

    I went to see my doctor because my libido had disappeared due to menopause. So he told me to take 50mg DHEA daily. So I researched this info about this and I was surrpised that 50mg is too much! As prescribed by my doctor, 50mg was needed for my increasing my libido. Wonder if it is dangerous to take that much?

    Need to know about the corrected information.

    Confused, "Anonymous"

    Anonymous -

    I understand your concern with this issue. It's a very valid point. Why on Earth would your doctor prescribe you too much DHEA?

    The answer is that, for the purposes of strength training only, 50mg will overwhelm your endocrine system.

    Taking a sex hormone will inhibit the function of normally secreting glands in your body.

    For example, a body builder who has a normal balance of testosterone as any other individual, suddenly begins taking testosterone to gain muscle mass. This testosterone will decrease the amount of testosterone produced by his body, since the demand for testosterone has decreased.

    Another analogy would involved the thyroid gland. When the gland sees too much thyroid hormone in the blood, the gland stops secreting. If there's not enough thyroid in the blood, the gland secretes more. It's a balance that keeps our bodies fine tuned throughout our lives.

    Taking hormones by mouth, not produced by your body, increases the amount of hormone in the blood. Therefore, a decrease in hormone secretion results. In the case of DHEA in men or women, DHEA will suppress the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), and oxytocin which all have a profound effect on libido.

    For a post-menopausal woman, estrogen production has all but ceased (aside from the small amount produced by the adrenal gland). Estrogen is required for the release of FSH, LH and, in some part, oxytocin from the pituitary gland (all of which play a role in libido). The effect of DHEA would be to replace the effects of FSH, LH and oxytocin that is no longer present (due to the lack of estrogen). It's a hormone replacement, not a hormone supplement.

    Sorry it's is long winded, but this is how it works! Your doctor is correct in his dosing. The idea is to replace lost hormonal function and restore the once intrinsic hormonal balance.

    For premenopausal women and individuals who have normally functioning endocrine organs, 50mg of DHEA is way too much and will likely have side effects of decreased libido, infertility, deep voice, etc.

    Hope this helps!! Thanks for your comment/question :)

    Ryan


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    DHEA Dosage

    You may head into the supplements factory and find bottles of 7-keto DHEA supplements, regular DHEA supplements, or pregnenalone (which has similar functions as DHEA). You're going to see bottles of 10, 25, 50, 100 and even 200 mg DHEA tablets. I simply can't fathom the ignorance of this - people need to understand that too much is simply too much!

    I don't care what any drug company says - taking high doses of DHEA is not safe and will result in adverse side effects if you take them for more than a week or two and already have a normal hormonal balance More is not better!

    DHEA supplements may have some potential to being helpful for a training program when used properly. However, this doesn't sell the bottles of DHEA for the dietary supplement company. They want you to believe that more is always better when, in fact, this is almost never the case. Overdosing and misuse of delicate items like DHEA supplements is a major cause for concern in society - misleading information can lead to serious illness. Be careful where you get your information from!

    If you do end up taking any over-the-counter DHEA supplements, even though it's potentially dangerous, limit it to 5mg per day on occasion! Do not exceed this amount. Any more than that and you will see some of the dangerous side effects I've mentioned. With this in mind, chop up your DHEA supplements into smaller chunks (preferably 5mg or less) since most companies don't supply 5mg tablets.


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    Are There Any Benefits to Taking DHEA

    Yes, and most of these are medical benefits. For example, individuals with adrenal insufficiency that have low-levels of DHEA in their blood might have DHEA supplements in their future. But remember, this is prescribed and monitored by a physician only. Here're some of the ways that DHEA can help an individual who is clinically deficient in the hormone...

  • Increased libido

  • Improved mood

  • Improved sleep

  • May improve symptoms of depression
  • Other supposed benefits of DHEA supplements such as increased muscle mass, fat burning capacity and strength, in the addition of being safe, are doubtful. There isn't any research out there concluding that DHEA supplements show the wanted benefits of strength training along with being safe. The evidence just isn't there. I'd recommend staying away from it unless you're advised by a physician.


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    Current Studies Involving DHEA

    There're many potential uses for DHEA in a clinical setting...here're some of the studies that are being conducted.

    Obesity

    There's been an apparent correlation with decreased DHEA levels and obesity in both rats and double-blind studies. In short, they gave a group of individuals a placebo (like a vitamin pill or sugar pill), gave DHEA to another group and watched them for results. After a period of 3 or 6 months, a decrease in android fat (fat located around the abdomen) was observed.

    It turns out that more android fat is also related to insulin resistance which is a precursor type 2 diabetes and "metabolic syndrome". There's some potential here, but the results are not conclusive. Stick with the good 'ole balanced diet and exercise and you'll do just fine.

    Menopause

    The cause of menopause is hormonal imbalance that results when a woman stops her menstrual cycles. Small studies indicate that supplementing with DHEA may ease some of these symptoms. The problem is that it'll also cause imbalances of other hormones not directly related to menopause that can result in other problems. Again, the jury is still out on this stuff. However, physicians are sometimes leaning towards DHEA supplements for hormonal replacement, given the fact that this one chemical is a precursor to so many critical hormones.

    Depression

    In comparison to a placebo, some symptoms of depression may be alleviated with a DHEA supplement. In fact, only about half of the subjects given DHEA to alleviate depression saw any results. Again, more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of DHEA supplementation. This is the main problem we're facing with this hormone at the present time - we don't know the long term effects!

    Osteoporosis

    There really isn't much of a result here, except that DHEA didn't do anything for bone density in normal adults. It's not really known yet what DHEA supplements can do for older women who already have bone density problems. What I mean is, the prospect of preventing osteoporosis is doubtful while helping those who already have bone density problems is slightly more promising.

    Some research, however, indicates an increased bone mass and density for women with SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) when taking DHEA supplements. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which your own immune cells attack connective tissues. There's actually an experimental drug called Prastera, which is a synthetic version of DHEA, that's sometimes used on SLE patients to help maintain bone mineral composition. This one actually does have some potential. But remember, these types of DHEA supplements are prescribed and monitored by your physician only.

    Fibromyalgia

    This is a disease characterized by general fatigue, mild depression, muscle weakness and painful joints. The general consensus is to just administer pain medications and antidepressants as there's no drug designed specifically for this disorder. SOme options include pain-modifying drugs such as Lyrica (pregabalin) and Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Sexual Dysfunction

    These are simply inconclusive. There aren't any relevant studies out there to give us much hope on DHEA being helpful for any sort of sexual dysfunction in hormonally normal individuals.


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    A Recommendation Regarding DHEA Supplements

    Look for other ways to improve your health, such as managing your diet and exercising. If you have other problems that you wish to alleviate such as a decrease in libido, concentration, symptoms of depression or anything else, consult with your physician to come up with the correct supplement. Don't allow drug companies to mislead you into thinking you need DHEA when you really, really don’t.

    Be about what you put into your body! DHEA supplements are likely not the answer.

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