DHEA: A Commonly Overlooked Hormone

Women's Health Specialist

Women’s Health Specialist

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is mainly produced by the adrenal glands. However, smaller amounts are made elsewhere in the body. It is metabolized from pregnenolone and is a precursor to the sex hormones: namely testosterone, but also the estrogens. DHEA production declines with age. DHEA can be a valuable part of dealing with hormone imbalance and adrenal issues. DHEA levels can demonstrate how the adrenal glands are functioning; especially with cortisol levels for comparison.  When considering supplementation, it is important to remember that DHEA can raise testosterone and estrogen levels due to its precursor status. Female patients with low levels of both DHEA and other sex hormones may experience symptoms such as low libido, fatigue, and memory issues. But…… women are more sensitive to the effects of DHEA than men. An appropriate dose for women would be 5 to 10mg orally every day.

Studies have shown that DHEA displays positive results in areas such as the regulation of insulin, cortisol and immune activities, cardiovascular protection, anti-dementia, bone stimulation, antibacterial activities, energy and overall well being. Physicians may add DHEA to topical, sublingual or vaginal hormone therapy. Using DHEA vaginally has demonstrated positive clinical outcomes for vaginal dryness and bladder issues.

The news about potential applications of this hormone is leaking into the mainstream and increasing awareness, although not always with the best outcomes. A simple Internet search yields hundreds of sites touting the “magical” properties of DHEA, especially the feature of improving one’s feeling of “well being”. Yet, a woman who is feeling “blue” and has perfectly normal levels of DHEA and testosterone, may be encouraged by these sites to start over the counter DHEA in male doses (50-100mg orally daily). This dosage in a woman with already normal levels could create a whole new set of problems and symptoms including oily skin, acne, aggressiveness or hair loss. It is important to look at the whole picture when treating hormone imbalances or deficiencies, and DHEA is a just one part of a complex symphony of hormones in a human body. Always make your physician aware of any over the counter products you utilize.

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