July 20, 2017
A commonly overlooked hormone in our testing menu is DHEA.
It is an often misunderstood, yet very important part of the whole hormonal picture and is a key player in achieving hormone balance.
So what exactly is DHEA and why is it important?
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most common steroid hormone in the body and is mainly produced by the adrenal glands, but 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. These features are why testing DHEA is a valuable part of dealing with hormone imbalance: the result will reflect how the adrenal glands are functioning, and a baseline DHEA level is important for dosing supplementation, as DHEA can raise testosterone and estrogen levels due to its precursor status. Female patients with low levels of DHEA and sex hormones having complaints of symptoms like low libido will be well served on DHEA, as they convert DHEA to testosterone more readily than men.
While DHEA is often seen in applications and discussions of anti-aging and adrenal function issues, it has also been found to be involved in many other processes in the body. Studies have shown that DHEA displays significant positive results in areas such as the regulation of insulin, cortisol and immune activities, cardiovascular protection, anti-dementia, bone stimulation, antibacterial activities, energy, and well being.
The potential promise of future applications of this hormone is leaking into the mainstream and increasing awareness, although not always with the best outcome. 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. What they don’t say, of course, is how unwise the unmonitored use of this hormone is. As mentioned above, it can raise estrogen levels. This is not something a patient should do on their own. Someone who is feeling “blue” and has perfectly normal levels of DHEA and testosterone may start supplementing with over the counter DHEA and create a whole new set of problems by throwing their hormones out of balance. It is important to look at the whole picture when treating hormone imbalances, and DHEA is a critical part of that process.
At our clinic we look at the pooled DHEA — so we order a lab test which is a blood test called DHEA-S. The blood level of this hormone can act as a starting point for us. We want youthful levels of this hormone for our patients and we make recommendations for supplementation accordingly. DHEA can be purchased over the counter but we typically recommend pharmaceutical grade brands from reputable companies. The best benefit here is that the DHEA is usually micronized for better absorption and often is in a more time-release form. Low levels of this hormone often can coincide with fatigue and stress, so often then it is checked when we suspect adrenal fatigue and when we see patients with fibromyalgia symptoms. After supplementing the hormone it is easy to asses optimal replacement by merely checking either blood or saliva levels.