DHEA and Aging—Finding the Right Balance

Posted by Medical Board on January 10, 2017 in Hormones Men Women Last updated on October 14, 2019 DHEA AND AGING—FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies, roughly one-third of middle-aged Americans (31.2%) report feeling fatigued much of the time. Not surprising, women ranked higher than men (33.3% to 28.6%) on overall prevalence of fatigue symptoms.[4]

Stretched between raising children and caring for aging parents, some research suggests that middle-age lack of energy might also be associated with a hormone deficiency in the adrenal glands. While loss of DHEA may be a natural part of aging, with levels gradually decreasing after age 25, other factors that rapidly deplete hormones may also be at play.

Chronic stress, poor eating, irregular sleep, and yo-yo dieting tax the body’s endocrine system and may cause adrenal exhaustion. Forced to work harder and harder overproducing the stress hormone, cortisol, the adrenals simply can’t manufacture enough DHEA necessary for optimal hormone balance. The end result can lead to extreme fatigue, burnout, and depression.

What is DHEA and why do we need it?

Dehydroepiandrosterone, synthesized from cholesterol and secreted from the body’s adrenal glands works to metabolize androgens, or sex steroids in the body such as, estrogen and testosterone. Because of this, DHEA is known as the “mother of all hormones”, since it is not only needed for the creation of sex hormones (androgens and estrogens), but is the foundation for many other necessary hormones. [1][2]

While DHEA is produced mainly in the adrenal glands, a small amount is also created in the testicles, ovaries, and brain where it moves through the bloodstream to the body’s tissues and cells.  Once produced, it is converted from the hormone form, androstenedione to the primary male and female sex hormones. 

Benefits of DHEA

There is evidence to support the positive effects of DHEA including:

  • Increased testosterone levels
  • Restored muscle mass
  • Improved body fat ratio
  • Fights fatigue
  • Improved memory
  • Boost in immune system
  • Promotion of flexibility
  • Raised endurance levels
  • Protective effects against depression
  • Fights obesity
  • Protective effects against osteoporosis

Decrease in DHEA Levels

After about age 30, DHEA levels begin to decrease in the body.  This is especially true for women.  

Lower levels of DHEA may be associated with:

  • The presence of hormone disorders
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammation
  • Immune disorders
  • Osteoporosis
  • Memory loss
  • Breast cancer
  • Endothelial dysfunction (affects inner lining of blood vessels)
  • Atherosclerosis (thickening artery wall)
  • Sexual dysfunction.[6] 

Certain medications such as, corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, and drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders could reduce levels of DHEA as well.

Because DHEA is so critical to the delicate balance of hormones in the body, any deficiency can lead to an imbalance of other hormones, including estrogen, testosterone and cortisol.

Signs of possible DHEA deficiency include:

  • Anxiety
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Decrease in muscle mass
  • Decrease in bone density
  • Depression
  • Aching joints
  • Loss of libido
  • Lowered immunity
  • Hypersensitivity to noise
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry skin
  • Loss of head hair, armpit hair, and pubic hair
DHEA Supplement
DHEA Supplement
Adrenal Health Test Kit
Adrenal Health Test Kit (DHEA + Diurnal Cortisol)

How to Get Tested for DHEA Deficiency

A test that measures DHEA-sulfate levels in the blood must
be taken.[3] Your doctor may order the test, or you can purchase a DHEA test online. Results may reflect a decrease in DHEA-sulfate.  This could be due to a serious medical condition such as, adrenal insufficiency or Addison disease, or from taking glucocorticoid medicine.   

Treatment for DHEA Deficiency

DHEA replacement therapy has been successful for many individuals, especially women. In fact, daily treatment with DHEA raised androgen levels in older females to that of younger women according to one government study.[5]

Patients with DHEA deficiency, in the form of adrenal insufficiency have benefitted from treatment in terms of energy levels, restored mood, overall well-being and heightened libido (women). DHEA replacement therapy may also have antidepressant potential, as well as the ability to reduce disease activity in patients with lupus. Established androgen deficiency in women may warrant the use of DHEA therapy, however it is not recommended for menopause relief treatment.

DHEA treatment may help certain medical conditions such as,

  • Obesity
  • HIV
  • Lupus
  • Diabetes
  • Infertility
  • Schizophrenia
  • Cocaine withdrawal
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Dementia
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • IBD Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Menopause
  • Aging skin
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Infertility[1]

Replacement therapy involves supplementing the body with biosynthesized DHEA, made from yam and soy plants. This may be taken orally in the form of tablets or capsules, chewing gum, sublingual pills or drops, vaginally, by injection, or topically, depending on the individual’s chief medical complaint.[7]

Supplementing With DHEA

Safety Precautions and Side Effects of Treatment

As with any hormone replacement therapy, precaution must be taken while under treatment. DHEA may be applied or ingested for a limited period of time as specified by a healthcare professional.

Side effects may include acne, loss of hair, stomach upset, high blood pressure, changes in menstrual cycle, deepening of voice, and facial hair growth in women. Taking DHEA treatment may exacerbate diabetes, certain liver conditions, female cancers, mood disorders, PCOS, and high cholesterol.

DHEA supplementation has also been linked with other effects including: 

Women

  • Smaller breast size
  • Increased genital size

Men

  • Breast tenderness
  • Urinary urgency
  • Aggression
  • Reduced size of the testes

Either Sex

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure
  • Itchy Skin
  • Change in mood

DHEA may also increase the risk of certain cancers including prostate, breast and ovarian cancer.

Rest, Restore, Recharge—Naturally

Unplug—Take a “timeout” from cell phones, social media, and TV.  Consider completely unplugging just one night a week and replace this time with reading, game night, music or other activities that don’t involve electronics.

Limit Screen Time—Refrain from activities that require viewing and concentration on a media device at least 1 hour before bed.

Exercise—Engage in at least 150 minutes of exercise per week including walking, jogging, or bike riding.

Eat Right—Get your vitamins A-E in nutrient rich foods that include fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats and proteins.

Supplement—Take a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement daily designed for aging men or women for added nutrient support.

Sleep—Get a full 8 hours of sleep each night to support and restore both body and mind.

While the “parent hormone”, DHEA is vital for overall health and wellness and its ability to lay the foundation for other hormones, it can become depleted through a number of circumstances and medical conditions both natural and artificial.  This makes finding the right balance between diet, activity, and rest critical for health and well-being.

While DHEA is often referred to as the “parent hormone” for its ability to create other hormones, it can become depleted by a number of circumstances and medical conditions both natural and artificial. This makes finding the right balance between diet, activity, and rest critical for health and well-being.


DHEA Testing

Select the option that works best for you: https://store.hrt.org/search?q=dhea+test

At Home Test Kits

DHEA-S (DS) – Saliva Test 
DHEA-S (DS) – Blood Spot 
Adrenal Stress (DHEA + Diurnal Cortisol) – Saliva Test 

BioIdentical DHEA supplement

DHEA (25mg) 

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