By Sherry L. Granader, Nutritionist
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands that is a precursor to estrogen, testosterone and other hormones. It is also important for supporting the immune, nervous and circulatory systems. The production of DHEA peaks in the mid-20s, starts to decline at the age of 30 and by the age of 70 is only at about 20%. DHEA is considered an anti-aging therapy to improve muscle strength, bone density, skin thickness and sexual function, especially in women.
Many people believe they can fight the effects of aging, improve sex drive, build muscle and improve other health conditions with supplementation, however there are some risks.
Most DHEA supplements are made from soy or wild yams and act as a precursor to male and female sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Precursors are substances that are converted into a hormone by the body. Supplementing with DHEA can increase the levels of these hormones and claim to:
• Build muscle strength
• Strengthen the immune system
• Slow down the aging process
• Boost energy levels
• Improve mood and memory
Many report positive effects from taking DHEA, however there are many studies that show opposite effects in the body, and no one knows the long-term effects from supplementation that could prove harmful. If you are dealing with any type of cancer, specifically ovarian, breast or prostate, then it is not a good idea to supplement with DHEA.
Supplementing with DHEA has shown promise in those dealing with mild to moderate depression and may help when used in a combination for treating adrenal deficiencies, lupus and obesity. However, more research is needed in these therapies and others including low bone density, psoriasis, infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the side effects of supplementing with DHEA include:
• Hair loss
• Upset stomach
• Oily skin
• Deeper voice and facial hair in women
• Nasal congestion
• Irregular or rapid heart beat
• Changes in cholesterol levels that are not favorable
These side effects are the result of increased levels of estrogen and testosterone in the body and the long-term effects of elevating hormones is not fully known. One version of a DHEA supplement is known as 7-Keto that is endorsed to reduce body fat while boosting the metabolism, making it easier for the body to burn calories more efficiently. However, there is very little evidence for investing in this supplement for weight loss. Many athletes take DHEA to improve their muscle strength and performance. That is because it is considered a ‘prohormone’ that increases the levels of steroid hormones such as testosterone. It is always a good idea to check with a health professional or nutritionist before taking any supplement, especially DHEA.