DHEA, otherwise known as Dehydroepiandrosterone, is a readily available over the counter supplement that had been dubbed the fountain of youth hormone. It is the most abundant steroid hormone in your body and is used to make testosterone and estrogen. It is often confused with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is a component of fish oil. The amount decreases with age. The question is, will this hormone turn back the clock?
DHEA has many beneficial effects and can be converted into many other hormones. Before you start taking this, it’s important to know why you are taking it and what it converts to in your body. The scientific evidence regarding its benefits are:
· Osteoporosis in older women: it preserves bone and increases bone density
· Lupus: It decreases symptoms and frequency of flare ups
· Libido in older women is improved
· Skin thickness and hydration are improved
· Depression and mood are improved especially in exhaustion
· Immune function is enhanced and may aid in fighting infections
· Erectile dysfunction in men may be improved
The interesting thing about the studies is that DHEA seemed to have beneficial effects mostly in women who were experiencing symptoms and not necessarily useful as a preventive, anti aging, performance enhancement or weight loss supplement. Many of the effects were thought to be due to its conversion to testosterone which gives a sense of wellbeing. There was less of an effect in younger men and women and men at any age. Some women convert it to testosterone and may experience acne, aggressiveness, and facial hair. Monitoring blood levels, adjusting the dosage and using alternative forms such as 7 keto DHEA can alleviate these side effects. Since it can convert to estrogen, use caution and consult your doctor if you have a history or family history of breast cancer.
While some studies suggest there may be anti aging, weight loss, performance enhancement and other effects, they are inconsistent. The big takeaway is that no one should use a shot gun approach or expect a quick fix using any hormone or supplement. If you have symptoms or seek enhancement of any function, it is best to measure levels and look at other possible reasons for symptoms before using any bioidentical or other hormone replacement therapy. Everyone is metabolically different and understanding your unique metabolism, nutritional and hormonal deficiencies and risk factors will enable you best target the strategies that are right for YOU.