October 23, 2013

DHEA: Too Good to be True?

Great question texted recently from a friend:  “What do you know about DHEA?  Should I take it?”  This is a simple question with a more complicated answer.  I have heard of DHEA, but do not dose it and as I started learning more, quickly realized this is nothing to play around with. 

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone that our bodies make in the adrenal glands (sitting on top of your kidneys) as well as in the liver (and testes for men).  It has been touted as an anti-aging, weight loss, immune boosting, cognitive stimulating, strengthening, energizing, muscle building, disease healing, mood boosting, sexually stimulating miracle supplement.   Too good to be true?  That should always be a warning sign.

Because the natural form of DHEA peaks at age 20 (like so many other things…) and is found in very low levels in the elderly, those of us in-between are becoming increasingly interested in its potential (especially men and/or athletes).  According to the research, a low dose would be about 10-50mg per day and a high dose would be 200mg or more.  I also found several sources that have indicated DHEA has some real issues with supplement quality control (some tests reveal products that contain either none of the active ingredient or much more than the label says).  If you were considering taking this supplement, it would be difficult to know when you were getting enough to see the desired effects while also avoiding a dose that could cause serious negative effects.

There are some short term studies that demonstrate some of the desired health benefits above, but there is also concern about this supplement causing increased rates of certain types of cancer (prostate, breast) in some studies.  The cancers this supplement may cause are not a surprise to me, because often this type of disease is hormone driven.  A review of rejuvenating hormone supplementation came out this year concluding:  There is little evidence to recommend DHEA, pregnenolone, growth hormone, ghrelin, or melatonin to older persons. Overall, exercise, adequate exposure to sunlight, and adequate dietary 
protein appear to have at least as positive an effect as any of the hormones being used to rejuvenate older persons.

If you were considering taking DHEA, I would use caution because of its potentially powerful hormone-mimicking capacity.  Please take the potential side effects into consideration as well:  hair loss, hair growth on the face (particularly in women), increased aggression, trouble sleeping, and irritability/mood change.  Based on the animal model research and connection with cancer, I would personally steer clear and instead focus on other ways to increase muscle mass, energy and vitality.

Natural Medicines Database:

Morley JE.  Scientific overview of hormone treatment used for rejuvenation. Fertil Steril. 2013 Jun;99(7):1807-13. 

*Woah!  I am not recommending you either take this supplement or avoid it.  This post is for information purposes only.  DHEA supplementation is not my specialty.  If you have serious questions about this topic, I suggest you find an MD or ND who works with the substance and can address your specific health questions.  

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