Dehydroepiandrosteron (DHEA) is one of the naturally occurring hormones in the body. DHEA is used by the body to form male and female sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone, is one of the most essential hormones required for the proper functioning of the body. With increasing age, synthesis of DHEA in the body may also decrease gradually. DHEA levels are low in people suffering from anorexia and AIDS.
How DHEA is Made
Cholesterol, the waxy substance that circulates in our bloodstream plays a crucial role in the production of DHEA. The body uses cholesterol to make pregnenolone, which is often referred to as the mother of all steroid hormones. Pregnenolone is then used in the synthesis of DHEA. The sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen are then produced with the help of DHEA. Although, DHEA is produced from pregnenolone, it is secreted in the adrenal gland. Thus, proper working of adrenal gland is very important to ensure normal DHEA levels. A diet lacking in nutrition, following low-calorie or crash diets, stress and emotional disturbances such as depression are some of the factors that can lower your DHEA levels.
Overwhelming fatigue is the most common symptom of low DHEA. Decrease in stamina and alertness is often observed in people afflicted with the shortage of this hormone. A lowered libido is especially observed in women. The main symptoms of DHEA deficiency are listed below:
- Less muscle and bone mass
- Pain in the joints
- Lower sex drive
- Less hair in underarms
- Dry skin and eyes
- Poor memory
- Difficulty in losing weight
Low levels of DHEA in the body has also been associated with a weakened immune system. As a result the person becomes susceptible to various infections and he may frequently fall sick. In other words, diminishing DHEA levels open the door to bacteria, viruses and other microbes. Patients with low DHEA also complain of sleep disorders. The DHEA hormone is also made in the neurons of the brain. Although it is produced in small amounts in the brain, a decline in DHEA output may lower the thinking ability.
DHEA levels decrease with age. DHEA levels in the body peak when a person is in his 20s. After 30, they begin to decrease. By the time a person reaches 40, his body manufactures around half of the hormone DHEA as it used to. By 65, DHEA production decreases to 10-20 percent of the optimum. By 80, the body produces less than 5 percent of the optimum. A diet lacking in nutrition, following low-calorie or crash diets, stress and emotional disturbances such as depression are some of the factors that can lower your DHEA levels.
Doctors may perform blood, saliva or urine tests to determine whether the person has normal DHEA levels.
Although DHEA is produced naturally in the body, DHEA supplements can be manufactured in a laboratory using a substance known as diosgenin, which is found in wild yam and soybean. People with low DHEA are advised to take DHEA supplements that are available at various drug stores. DHEA can be purchased as tablets, capsules and injections and the general dosage varies from 20-200 milligrams daily.
Before taking DHEA supplements, it is necessary to consult a doctor as such supplements may have side effects. Simply taking DHEA supplements is no way to resolve the issue of DHEA shortage. This is because, usage of DHEA will vary from one person to another. In some patients only a small percentage of DHEA is transformed into estrogen, while the rest gets converted into testosterone. While in others, estrogen production is higher than that of testosterone. In such circumstances, taking DHEA pills can trigger hormonal imbalance and further aggravate the problem. It is better to evaluate the level of other hormones in the body (estrogens and testosterone) and then decide the dosage. Also, the testosterone and estrogen levels need to be monitored regularly in patients put on DHEA pills.
Small research suggests that people who lead a happy, fulfilling life are able to maintain adequate DHEA levels. Doing activities that give you satisfaction and pleasure is something that can work wonders to increase DHEA levels. Following an exercise routine can also have a positive impact on DHEA levels in our body. Engaging oneself in any physical activity uplifts the mood, which in turn contributes to improve the production of DHEA. Participating in fun-filled activities that bring joy is yet another way to ensure that the DHEA production does not slow down.
Clinical studies have examined the effect of DHEA supplements on depression. Studies revealed that DHEA improves the symptoms of depression temporarily. More research is required before DHEA is recommended for depression as its long-term effects are not known.