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DHEA: Dehydroepiandrosterone, A Dietary Supplement

The Premise for DHEA

At age 35, many individuals begin to fatigue more easily, experience a gradual loss of muscle mass and are not as effective at fighting off disease. Some of these changes are likely due to inactivity and life-style. The reality is that the aging process affects even those who watch their diet and exercise daily.

Declining DHEA and the corresponding decline in dependent hormones has been linked to the loss of muscle tissue and stamina, fatigue, increased body fat, a decline in sex drive and an increased susceptibility to disease.

Although the specific mechanisms of action for DHEA are only partially understood, supplemental DHEA has been shown to have a positive influence on markers that define aging and obesity.

What we know about DHEA and its effect on aging:
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal gland early in the day. It is the most abundant steroid in the bloodstream and is present at even higher levels in brain tissue.

DHEA graph
DHEA levels are known to decline with age. (see chart above). It appears in the blood steam by age seven and reaches its peak between 25 and 30; gradually, falling as much as 90% by age 60. (Danenberg, 1986)

DHEA is known to be a precursor to the numerous steroid sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.

For our recommended DHEA supplement check out DHEA-Pro.

Scientific Studies reinforce the benefits of DHEA

DHEA and Your Immune System

Researchers concluded that administering DHEA to rats restored specific immune function known to put the elderly at increased risk of pneumonia. influenza and other diseases. DHEA was shown to improve macrophage function by correcting defective pathways of cell-to-cell transduction. Macrophage immune deficiencies are known to shorten survival in cancer patients. (Journal of Immunology, 2002)

DHEA has consistently been shown to boost beneficial interleukin-2 and suppress damaging interkeukin-6 levels. Interteukin-6 is overproduced in the aged, which contributes to autoimmune disease, immune dysfunction, osteoporosis, depressions in healing, breast cancer. B-cell lymphoma, and anemia. (Van Vollenhoven, 1998)

Oral supplementation with low dose DHEA in aged animals restored immunocompetence to a reasonable level within days of administration. (Danenberg, 1996)

DHEA and Blood Sugar Metabolism and Weight Management

DHEA (50-100 mg. a day) was shown to significantly elevate insulin growth factor (IGF). Aging causes a decline in IGF level contributing to the loss of lean body mass, as well as excess fat accumulations, neurological impairment and age-associated immune dysfunction. (Morales, 1998)

DHEA, Your Brain and Sense of Well-being

DHEA may protect against Alzheimer's disease by blocking the toxic effect of cortisol and boosting IGF levels. Scientists noted that DHEA's protective effect could be of benefit to the normal aging brain. (Journal of Endocrinology Investigations, 2002)

S.S.C. Yen and Associates at the University of California San Diego tested the effects of DHEA supplementation (50 mg. a day) over a 6-month period. Researchers reported that youthful serum levels of DHEA were restored in both men and women. Dr. Yen showed that DHEA replacement was associated with an increase in perceived physical and psychological well being for both men (67%) and women (84%). (Morales, 1994)

DHEA and Your Bone Health

Doctors noted that DHEA is a factor that determines lumbar spine density in aging men. Previously it was shown that DHEA helps to protect bone mineral density in women. (Calcified Tissue International, 2003)

DHEA and Heart Disease

Men with high DHEA levels are less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. Moreover, DHEA increases the body's ability to transform food into energy and bum off excess fat. The study also concluded that DHEA has anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is known to play a critical role in the development of the killer diseases of aging: heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and certain types of cancers. The (Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 2003)

A study using coronary artery angiography showed that low DHEA levels predispose people to more significant coronary artery blockage. (Herrington, 1995)

DHEA inhibits abnormal blood platelet aggregation, a major factor in the development of sudden heart attack and stroke. In contrast, some studies on DHEA do not show cardiovascular disease protection. (Jesse, 1995)

DHEA and Cancer

DHEA may effective in the prevention and treatment of cancer. In one study, DHEA inhibited tumor proliferation of rat liver cells by blocking the cancer promoting enzyme glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PDH). The human equivalent dose of 600 mg. a day suppressed breast tumors in mice by 70%. Scientists showed that even human equivalent doses of 25-120 mg. showed striking cancer prevention benefits with no evidence of toxicity. (Simile, 1995)

DHEA and Estrogen/Testosterone Levels

A German study found that DHEA-deficient women supplementing with 50 mg. of DHEA daily for four months had decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety and improved libido. (Arlt, 1999)

ยท An Italian study suggests that DHEA may be an effective option for preserving health in postmenopausal women. The study concluded that oral administration of 50 mg. of DHEA daily for 6 months mimics the benefits of traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT), namely estrogen-progestin, in terms of its effect on the GHRH-GH-IGF-2 (growth hormone releasing) axis. (Genazzani, 2001)

A Summary of DHEA Studies (Watson, 1996)

DHEA Replacement Therapy

Research indicates that DHEA replacement therapy can restore serum levels to those of a 21-year old. People over age 40 who do not supplement with DHEA usually have serum levels below 200, with many testing below 100. Chronic DHEA deficiency is a risk factor for developing the degenerative diseases of aging, according to the preponderance of evidence existing in scientific literature.

How do you know if you can benefit from DHEA?

You can test your current DHEA level. This may be done by your doctor and is helpful in establishing a base line to determine the effectiveness of supplementation. Since most adults over 40 have low DHEA blood levels, many health professionals feel that it is better to test DHEA blood levels three to six weeks after beginning supplementation to determine optimal dosing levels.

Youthful Ranges of DHEA
400 - 500
mcg/dl of blood
350 - 430
mcg/dl of blood

The standard blood test to evaluate DHEA status is one that measures DHEA's sulfate. The DHEA is calculated in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl of blood). Note: When taking DHEA supplements, blood should be drawn three to four hours alter the last dose.

DHEA Dosing and Safety Precautions
Properly managed DHEA therapy can be useful for older men and women
to increase energy, vitality, and foster an overall youthful feeling.

Follow these guidelines for safe, long-term use:
For most people, low-dose therapy is recommended: 25 mg. in one daily dose, everyday or every other day. General therapy is considered 25 mg. to 50 mg. per day. Beyond these levels, follow the recommendation of your doctor.
To maximize DHEA absorption, take 20 -30 minutes before meals. While DHEA can be taken with or without food, some research indicates that fat improves DHEA assimilation.
Generally, DHEA should taken early in the day to avoid insomnia. DHEA is naturally produced by the adrenal glands early in the day.
DHEA increases metabolism, thereby promoting free radicals in liver cells. It is recommended that you add ample antioxidants to your supplement program. Alpha lipoic acid, vitamin E, green tea, N-acetylcysteine (NAG), soy, and Indole-3-Carbinol are antioxidants that have been shown to be especially effective suppressing free radicals.

A Word of Caution

Animal studies have shown that extremely high daily doses of DHEA (from 2000 to 10,000 mg. in human terms) caused liver damage in mice and rats. When antioxidants were given along with mega doses of DHEA, liver damage did not occur in animal tests. It should be noted that the amount of DHEA shown to cause liver damage is 20 times more than is necessary to produce anti-aging benefits.

Those with existing prostate or breast cancers or liver disease should not take DHEA unless closely supervised by a knowledgeable physician who understands DHEA's metabolic pathways.

Healthy men over 40 should consider checking their PSA and DHEA serum levels every 6 to 12 months. Women should also consider testing estrogen and testosterone levels when they have a DHEA blood test. With your doctor's assistance, this information can assist you in evaluating DHEA's effect on blood levels of estrogen.

Selected References:

1. Arlt, W, CaRies, F, van Vlijmen, J C, et al, Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in women with adrenal insufficiency. N Engl J Med. 1999 Sep30; 341(14): 1013-20.

2. Adrenal Insufficiency.NEnglJMed.I999Sep30;341(14): 1013-20. Danenberg, H D , Ben-Yehuda, A, Zakay-Rones, Z, Friedm8\, G, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) treatment reverses the impaired immune response of old mice to influenza 1IQccination and protects from influenza infection. Vaccine 1995; 13(15): 1445-8.

3. Genazzani, A D, et aI, Oral dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation modulates spontaneous and growth hormone-releasing hormone-induced growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 secretion in early and late postmenopausal women. Fertil Steril. 2001Aug; 76(2}: 241-8.

4. Herrington, D M, et al, Dehydroepiandrosterone and coronary atherosclerosis. Ann NY Acad Sci. 1995 Dec 29; 774: 271-8

5. Jesse,RL,et al, Dehydroepiandrosterone inhibits human platelet aggregation in vitro and in vivo Ann NY Acad Sci.I995 Dec 29; 774: 281-90

6. Khorram, O, et al, Activation of immune function by dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in age-advanced men. J Gerontol A BioI Sci Med Sci. 1997 Jan; 52(1}: MI-M7.

7. Simile, M, et al, Inhibition by dehydroepiandrosterone of growth and progression of persistent liver nodules in experimental rat liver carcinogenesis. Int J Cancer, 199,5 Jul 17; 62(2): 210-5.

8. Morales, A J, et al, Effects of replacement dose of dehydroepiandrosterone in men and women of advancing age, J Clin Endrocrinol Metab, 1994 Jun; 78(6): 1360-7.

9. Morales, A J, et al, The effect of six months treatment with a 100 mg daily dose of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on circulating sex steroids, body composition and muscle strength in age-advanced men and women. Clin Endrocrinol, 1998 Oct; 49(4): 421-32.

10. Watson, R R, et al, Dehydroepiandrosterone and diseases of aging. Drugs Aging. 1996 Oct; 9(4}: 274-91.

11. Van Vollenhoven, R F, et al, Treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus with dehydroepiandrosterone: 50 patients treated up to 12 months. J Rheumatol. 1998 Feb; 25(2): 285-9.

12. Journal of Endocrinology, Calcified Tissue International, March 2002.

13. DHEA, The Fountain of Youth , Journal of the Medical Assoc of Thailand, Oct, 2001.

14. Cherniske, S A, The DHEA Breakthrough, Ballantine Books.

15. Sahelain, R, DHEA: A Practical Guide, Avery Publishing.