All about Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and How it Affects Aging

What is Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the most plentiful steroid hormones in the body. It has a range of important effects on our health. DHEA is produced primarily by our adrenal glands, with smaller quantities also being produced by our ovaries, testes and brains.

In common with other hormones, DHEA levels decline as we age. Once most of us reach the age of 75, DHEA levels have dropped to about 15% of those we enjoyed at 25.

Why Do We Need Healthy Levels of DHEA?

DHEA is an important buffer for our sex hormones. DHEA is a weak androgen that can be converted into the male hormone, testosterone, with which it shares some of its benefits as well as its side effects. In women, DHEA supplements can increase testosterone levels and help restore a flagging libido. DHEA can also be metabolized into the female hormone, estrogen.

Other beneficial actions of DHEA include boosting our immune system, increasing the function of growth hormone and balancing the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, on our bodies. Taking DHEA supplements can also reduce levels of ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol, AGEs, and oxidative stress and to improve low mood and cognitive functions, including memory.

Studies have also suggested that declining levels of DHEA in our body are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Those with the highest levels of DHEA tend to have the lowest risk of heart disease and the longest life spans. In fact, many anti-aging researchers believe that replenishing our DHEA stocks so as to maintain them at youthful levels is highly desirable for optimal health and wellbeing.

If you are you experiencing a persistent loss of stamina, strength, fatigue, lethargy, low mood, poor memory or reduced libido, you may want to consider making an appointment to see your doctor. Other symptoms of DHEA deficiency can include:

  • Poor capacity to cope with stress
  • Poor sexual performance
  • Dry skin
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Reduced muscle bulk
  • Sparseness of body hair
  • Weight gain

Testing DHEA Levels

For any of us who think we might have low DHEA levels, a simple blood test is available that measures dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), a more stable circulating form of DHEA. Some doctors also use salivary testing, but these can be expensive and the results are laboratory-dependent and often require additional verification via blood tests.

Urine testing of total 17-ketosteroids can also give an indication of our levels of DHEA release over a 24-hour period.

For those individuals with low levels, DHEA hormone therapy may be recommended

Last Reviewed 11/Mar/2014

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Whilst wielding a couple of dumbbells in a gym class in 2003, Kate experienced an epiphany around the lack of accepted best practice guidelines when it came to staying well and avoiding disease. Kate realized that she had no chance of slowing her own aging process unless she became better educated about her options.
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