DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant steroid hormone produced naturally in the body, mostly by the adrenal glands. It is often known as the ‘Mother hormone’ because so many other important hormones are made from it. Looking at the hormone flow chart in our previous blog on testosterone and weight loss, you will see that cholesterol is at the very start of the steroid hormone cascade and is initially converted to pregnenolone, which in turn is converted to DHEA and so on. So, some consider pregnenolone as the ‘Mother hormone’.
Some of the benefits of maintaining normal healthy young DHEA levels may include:
- Immune function support – inflammation is responsible for many disease processes and DHEA has been shown to improve immune function. In particular, systemic lupus erythmatosis (SLE), an autoimmune disease demonstrated clinical improvement and reduced flare ups with DHEA treatment.
- Maintaining cognitive function.
- Elevating mood and sense of well-being; i.e. some forms of depression can benefit from DHEA. Some forms of schizophrenia can also benefit.
- Help with abnormal sleep patterns.
- Peri- and postmenopausal support – through its own benefits and conversion to other steroid hormones down the cascade.
- Reducing fat mass and maintaining lean body mass – DHEA helps with metabolic syndrome by reducing insulin resistance. This also benefits patients with type 2 diabetes.
- Maintenance of bone health (prevent and treat osteoporosis for women).
- Maintenance of healthy lipid levels and cardiovascular health.
- Improvement of erectile dysfunction.
There is no clear cut evidence that DHEA causes cancer, but since some cancers may be hormone-mediated (in particular breast and prostate cancer), people with these conditions should not take DHEA. Also, regular breast and Pap checks for women, and PSA / rectal examinations for men, should be undertaken regularly when undertaking DHEA treatment.
In Australia, unlike the US, DHEA is prescription only. However, make sure that you consult a doctor that is experienced in prescribing it. It is critical that it is monitored as it impacts on many other hormones, which will also need to be monitored and possibly treated as well. Although adverse reactions are uncommon, they can occur and should be dealt with promptly. For example, some women will convert too much DHEA to testosterone. This can cause excess hair growth and acne. Additionally, watch for over the counter supplements labelled as ‘natural DHEA’ made from wild yams, as the main active ingredient in these supplements, diosgenin, cannot directly be converted into DHEA in your body, and you will not be getting what you might think you are.