by Nashville personal trainer Dan DeFigio
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone made in the human body which serves as precursor to other hormones. It is actually the most abundant hormone in the human body. DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30, and may also be depleted by a number of drugs, including insulin, corticosteroids, opiates, and danazol.
Low concentrations of DHEA are associated with immunosupression, decline in muscle mass, increased mortality, loss of sleep, diminished feelings of well-being and impaired ability to cope, and have been associated with several common diseases (including cancer, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease).
Typical symptoms of low DHEA in women:
- Severe fatigue
- Decreased stamina and alertness
- Less muscle and bone mass
- Pain in the joints
- Lower sex drive
- Dry skin and eyes
- Poor memory
- Difficulty in losing weight
How DHEA affects osteoporosis:
Bone cells convert DHEA to estrone, a type of estrogen that in turn increases the activity of bone-making cells called osteoblasts. DHEA’s transformation into estrone depends on the presence of vitamin D3. (And vice versa — D3 requires DHEA to stimulate osteoblasts).
Japanese researchers found a positive correlation between DHEA levels and bone density in women over age 50. The higher the women’s DHEA, the denser their bones. When the same researchers gave DHEA to “postmenopausal” rats (ovaries removed), the rats’ bone density increased.
People with osteoporosis have significantly lower DHEA levels than people without the disease. When osteoporotic lab animals are given DHEA, their bones remineralize–that is, their bones become stronger. Although human studies have yet to be done on the osteoporosis/DHEA connection, DHEA supplementation would in all likelihood increase our bone density as well.
Get a DHEA-sulfate test to find out if an oral DHEA supplement makes sense for you. Do not take a DHEA supplement if your blood levels are not deficient.
Return to the Nutrition Articles menu.