David J. Zeiger, D.O.

According to current longevity research, if you are middle-aged or beyond and want to maintain a youthful body, you ‘ll need to replenish hormones such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). Even if youthfulness is not your goal, DHEA supplementation may be beneficial.

Fountain of Youth?

DHEA is a hot item on the market. I saw a display of DHEA capsules on the impulse buyer’s rack at Walgreens right next to the cashier. Imagine. Hormone supplements bought on impulse. DHEA supplements have been selling fast off the shelves of pharmacies, supermarkets and health food stories.

At least five books on DHEA were published last year. Taking DHEA has been touted as a way to reverse aging, invigorate a stagnant libido, increase energy, tame stress, restore memory, reduce body fat, strengthen the immune system, and positively affect chronic conditions from lupus and diabetes to osteoporosis and chronic fatigue syndrome. In other words, DHEA has been called a “fountain of youth.” But keep in mind most DHEA studies have been done on laboratory rodents that have little if any circulating DHEA. The relevance of this research to humans, therefore, is still in question.

The human adrenal glands and gonads naturally produce DHEA with optimal levels occurring around age 20 for women and age 25 for men. After those ages, DHEA levels gradually decline. All experts are not convinced of the logic behind the notion of aging as a hormone deficiency. The philosophy is that hormones drop with age, and if you get the levels back up you’ll be like a young person. The problem is that many things change with age and you don’t know what’s causing what. Yes, on average we make only about 25 percent as much human growth hormone at age 60 as age 20, but maybe that’s because our bodies need growth hormone mostly to make organs develop properly, not to keep them running smoothly.

Vital to your health

As an antioxidant, hormone regulator, and the building block from which estrogen and testosterone are produced, DHEA has a definite impact on your health. Low DHEA levels have been associated with cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, obesity, AIDS, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and immune dysfunction illnesses. Test subjects using supplemental DHEA report improved sleeping patterns, better memory, improved ability to cope with stress, decreased joint pain , increases in lean muscle, and decreases in body fat.

No serious side effects have been reported to date, although acne, oily skin, facial hair growth on women, deepening of the voice, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue have been reports with high DHEA doses. Some have reported that high doses may also lead to breast enlargement in some men. Some caution is warranted with women who have breast cancer and men with prostate cancer, since both are related to excessive hormone production.

Some suggestions

If you want to begin taking DHEA here are some suggestions. See your physician for a complete history and physical exam and always use DHEA under the guidance of your physician. Your physician will get an initial baseline measure of your DHEA level then test regularly (every three months) to monitor changing DHEA levels

Have your DHEA level determined with a blood test and a saliva test. Testing is recommended to determine your exact DHEA dosage, which may range from 10mg once a day for most people to 100 mg three times a day depending upon deficiency and need. Since DHEA levels fluctuate significantly even among people within a certain age group, identifying the optimum range for a particular individual has been the subject of debate within the medical community. Taking more DHEA is not always better. If your tests reveal you have initially low levels of DHEA, your physician will prescribe lesser quantities and guide your way up to an appropriate dosage.

Try using natural means of boosting your DHEA levels because there are natural ways to stave off the changes that come with age. Carbo- hydrate restriction and some forms of meditation and exercise have been reported to naturally increase DHEA production. Supplemental micronutrients have helped the body regulate DHEA meta-bolism. Plenty of studies prove that exercise increases muscle mass and decreases fat (as DHEA may or may not do) while improving bone density and lowering cholesterol. Exercise, moreover offers a strong list of bonuses . It boosts energy and maybe even libido, and may turn out to lower the risk of breast cancer.

Check with your doctor about medications that affect DHEA levels such as oral hypoglycemic agents, calcium channel blockers, even alcohol and many xenobiotic substances like PCBs will lower DHEA levels.

Since stress and negative emotional reactions have been shown to immediately suppress DHEA levels, stress reduction programs are also advised.

DHEA may not prove to be the “fountain of youth” that everyone is hoping for, but it does seem to have physio-logical rewards.

Page modified on 5/15/2011

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