DHEA, what is it and why is it so popular?
DHEA is an abbreviation for dehydroepiandrosterone, which is a steroid hormone available in dietary supplement form. Inside the body, it is made in the adrenal glands.
In the body, DHEA is converted into male and female sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone.
DHEA is also responsible for developing “androgenic effects” that are referred to as masculinization. Examples of such changes include production of oilier skin, changes in body odor and growth of armpit and pubic hair.
On the other hand, DHEA can play a part in physiological pathways, since it is believed to bind to certain receptor types and act as a neurosteroid that directly affects neuronal excitability.
DHEA production peaks around age 25. Afterwards DHEA levels decline steadily.
Taking DHEA in supplement form can boost levels of estrogen and testosterone and as a result, help with hormone imbalances or deficiencies. That's not everything, it is said to aid in the treatment or prevention of a plethora of conditions related to aging.
DHEA is also said to slow aging, improve sports performance, enhance libido, promote weight loss, and support the immune system.
But there's more: DHEA can increase bone and muscle strength, promote nerve growth, decrease inflammation levels as well as enhance mood and memory and even improve sleep quality.
With such an important role for DHEA, and the ease with which it can be made from diosgenin (present in soy and wild yams) it is easy to understand why DHEA is such a popular supplement among elderly people.
DHEA may also be used for bodybuilding, since it can develop muscles, enhance strength and burn fat.
However, since DHEA is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen, the effects for men are not the same as for women.
When consulting plethora of studies done with DHEA, results indicate a positive effect of DHEA on
- bone density for women
- depression and mood, which can be explained by low DHEA levels in depressed patients
- weight loss for older patients with metabolic disorders
- sexual function, moreso in menopausal women than for men unless they have a hormonal imbalance.
- muscle strength for elderly people
For men it can assist with fat loss and conservation of muscle mass as well as help with erectile dysfunction and skin quality.
For women it can decrease menopausal symptoms and improve low libido. For women it also helps increase bone density moreso than for men (also because men suffer less from osteoporosis than women do)
As with all hormonal supplements there are side effects too.
The following may happen with overuse: acne, disturbed sleep, headache, nausea, itching skin, mood changes, chest pain, upset stomach.
For men overuse can result in additional side effect such as tender breasts, an urgency to urinate, aggression and/or reduced testes size.
For women overuse can result in additional side effect such as oily skin, increased hair growth, deep voice, irregular periods, smaller breasts and increased genital size.
Generally DHEA use should be avoided by anyone whose health is compromised already or by anyone under age 40 and avoided altogether when younger than 25 years.