Dehydropiadrosterone (DHEA) is the result of the synthesis of cholesterol and manufactured by the adrenal glands. With DHEA becoming recently linked to athletes doping with steroids, there is now a confusion on its role in the body and its use. For this reason, the real benefits of the hormone got lost in the confusion.
The aim of this article is to provide information about DHEA and its role in adrenal imbalance.
What is DHEA?
As mentioned, DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands. The adrenals are walnut-sized organs found above the kidneys.
An average adult produces about 25mg of the hormone daily. As we get older, the production of DHA dwindles. Men produce more DHEA than women.
DHEA production is at peak during your 20s and drops to just 20% by age 70. It is for this reason that self-prescription of over-the-counter DHEA is not recommended.
DHEA is called the “mother hormone” because it powers all other hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The adrenal glands are also responsible for the production of cortisol and adrenaline. When the adrenal glands are not able to fully support a healthy hormonal balance, it results to adrenal exhaustion. For the human, they will feel tapped out, overwhelmed, and often depressed.
How is DHEA Linked to Adrenal Imbalance?
The ability of the body to produce DHEA is associated with your lifestyle, diet, and stress level. An adequate level of DHEA is necessary for the body to produce the hormones it needs. When there is a balance of DHEA, your mood is stable and you feel vigorous and joyful. When combined with the right support, it acts quickly and effectively.
On the flip side, low DHEA level causes the body to produce less endocrine. This can disrupt the ability of the body to produce hormones. As a result, you will feel a general sense of malaise and other symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
Symptoms of low DHEA level include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Decrease in bone density
- Aching joints
- Loss of libido
- Lowered immunity
- Decreased libido (particularly in women)
- Poor memory
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Reduced stamina
- Insulin resistance
- Addison’s disease
Low level of DHEA is associated with depression, fatigue, and a general sense of not feeling well. Other symptoms may include joint pains, sleeping disturbance, resistance to insulin, dryness in skin & eyes, and weak immune system.
It is worth noting that DHEA alone is not enough to fix adrenal imbalance but can be effective when combined with hormonal and nutritional support, proper rest, and lifestyle changes. Evidence suggests that having a healthy level of DHEA can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, depression, osteoporosis, obesity, and heart disease.
However, women with a history of breast cancer are at greater risk, which makes medical supervision for DHEA even more important.
How Does DHEA Level Affect Hormonal Balance?
Before tinkering with hormonal balance, we first need to understand DHEA on all levels.
During menopause or hysterectomy the adrenal glands become the main hormone factory. In this stage, there are more women who convert DHEA into testosterone than into estrogen and progesterone. As a result, they become irritable and there is an unusual growth of body hair. This usually happens when DHEA supplements are taken without prior and follow-up testing of overall and “free” testosterone levels.
“Free” testosterone refers to hormones that are biologically active in your bloodstream. After a woman reaches menopausal stage, their level of free testosterone may be volatile. This explains the annoying male-pattern facial hair that is common during the transition.
Most doctors only test the level of total testosterone and not the combined amount. When DHEA is added, the picture changes drastically.
There are also instances when patients convert DHEA into estrogen. Taking supplements may result to an estrogen-progesterone imbalance. The patient experiences symptoms similar to PMS such as tenderness in the breasts and mood swings.
Are DHEA Supplements Safe?
Many over-the-counter DHEA products are sold in confusing doses and combinations. They claim that DHEA is effective for weight loss, libido increase, reduction of depression symptoms, and renewal of strength, immunity, and stamina.
However, DHEA is a potent steroid. For this reason, people should take extreme caution when taking it.
Unless a comprehensive hormone test is conducted, it is impossible to determine your DHEA level. Age does not automatically translate to deficiency. Being a natural substance, DHEA is manufactured by the human body more or less depending on nutrient support, metabolism, hormonal balance, level of activity, and emotional state.
Studies have revealed that it is possible to improve the level of DHEA naturally by maintaining a body mass index (BMI) of 19-25, taking enough rest and exposure to sunlight, having regular exercise, and considering more ‘downtime’ in your life.
You may be taking a risk when buying health supplements at a food or drug store since there is no assurance that what you are buying is natural. DHEA is a highly regulated product and the manufacturing process needs to be policed. Some of the supplements sold in retail stores have high dosages for women. It is, therefore, really not recommended to experiment with DHEA without medical supervision.
At the same time, DHEA alone is not enough to cure an exhausted adrenal. There are many factors that will come to play. Before anything else, you should first know the status of your adrenal glands before even attempting to know the kind of combination support your body will need.
How Is DHEA Level Tested?
There are several ways to test DHEA level. Aside from cortisol level, there are procedures for testing adrenal profiles. For suspected adrenal imbalance, hormonal imbalance, or DHEA irregularity, an adrenal panel test is often requested by the doctor. There are blood tests designed for testing progesterone in the luteal phase, DHEA-S Hormone tests, as well as free and total testosterone levels.
Testing DHEA level is important because what traditional medical practitioners consider normal can be a little low. Some women may fall short of the normal curve but are still within the normal standards. It will still boil down to how the person is feeling and how stressed the body is.
A woman’s emotional state may also play a factor. While they may seem normal in traditional standards, they might still need a temporary boost to lift them up.
If DHEA supplements are necessary, this is where the prescription of the doctor will come in handy. Proper dosage is necessary: do not self-medicate because it could be risky.
The doctor may recommend a DHEA compound. Make sure that what they prescribe comes from a reputable pharmacy. You can ask the doctor if the drug store is registered under the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists.
Once you have taken DHEA, your doctor will likely monitor your metabolism of the hormone using regular tests and personal checkup. The objective of any treatment is to bring the body to its normal balance with the help of lifestyle changes.
Testing for cortisol level may be necessary as it indicates adrenal fatigue, a condition that involves impairment to respond to stressors. A low level of cortisol may leave the body prone to poor blood sugar regulation. Likewise, high level of cortisol may have a serious impact on your long-term health. It may increase your risk to cancer, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What Are Treatments for Low DHEA Level?
DHEA is a hormone produced by the body all the time. There are natural ways to boost the production of the hormone in your body. Studies reveal that maintaining a positive outlook can be helpful in sustaining the cycle of DHEA production. People who are optimistic produce more DHEA, which can affect their serotonin level.
A proven way to increase DHEA level is to find ways to cultivate joy in your life. People may have different means of doing this but there are some common ways to do this:
Connecting with people
People are inherently social beings. They like to seek companionship. By connecting with family and friends, you can maintain joy and happiness in your life.
Another way you can cultivate joy is to reach out to other people. Take part in a local class or group that has a similar interest with you.
Have regular exercise
Staying active, and doing deep breathing and mild stretching can help lessen stress, and increase oxygen in your cells. This can also boost your endorphins, the hormones responsible for improving your mood.
Believing in a larger power and a higher being (whether divine or natural) can be a huge source of joy. Whether it’s doing yoga in the woods or bowing down in prayer, being in tune with out spirituality can help us take a break from our hectic schedule to focus on what is meaningful and on who we really are.
Have time for play
Playtime should not be exclusive for kids. As we grow old, our DHEA level declines. As we focus on our work and responsibilities, we lose time relaxing and taking a break. However, engaging in some play time is actually good for the health, so try to find time for it.
In today’s fast-paced world, we hardly have time for fostering things that can provide joy. However, as we grow old, we come to the realization that we need to stop for a while and focus on our body and mind. With a little help, you may realize that your body is more than capable of taking care of itself.
Our health and well-being is not a static thing. Like all other natural things, they are always changing and unique. Our body’s DHEA level is part of this dynamic motion. What we do with our adrenals and the way we live our life can influence our DHEA level.
In order to keep our body and mind properly functioning and in order to stay healthy, it is important that we take care of ourselves. We need to consult a doctor to discuss what needs to be done.
You should not play around with DHEA levels as it could have serious risks on your overall health. It is best to consult your doctor all the time so they can recommend the best treatment for your condition.