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DHEA: Fountain of Youth or Stretching the Truth

by Fitness expert Christine Lydon

DHEA, an acronym for Dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid pro-hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is the most abundant steroid hormone in our bodies and in its original form, DHEA is largely an inert precursor. When it reaches target organs in our bodies, it is converted to active endocrine forms which include estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and corticosterone. DHEA reaches peak levels in humans during puberty and into the early 20's and falls gradually thereafter. By the age of 70, the average person has less than 20% of youthful circulating blood levels.

The natural decline in DHEA levels accompany a number of events related to both disease and aging which effect virtually every system in our body. A partial list of such processes includes:

  • decreased bone density and the development of osteoporosis
  • decreased muscle mass and strength losses
  • atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease
  • decreased insulin sensitivity and the development of diabetes
  • declines in mental acuity and organic brain deterioration including senile dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease
  • metabolic slowing with accompanying decreases in energy levels
  • increased percentage body fat
  • decreased immune function and the development of malignancy, autoimmune disorders, and increased susceptibility to both bacterial and viral illnesses
  • decreased libido
  • psychiatric problems including depression.

The biggest concern surrounding over-the-counter hormone replacement therapy is that consumers will enjoy the effects of small doses and self-medicate with more than what is recommended, eventually crippling their body's natural capacity to produce the hormone. This is of particular importance to individuals in their 20's and 30's who are presumably producing adequate quantities of the hormone without supplementation. In addition, DHEA can be converted to testosterone in women and could theoretically promote virilizing effects like acne, increased facial hair, male-pattern baldness, and voice deepening.

Despite 2500 scientific studies spanning the past two decades, no one really knows what constitutes the proper age-related replacement dose, or how this dose should differ between men and women, or simply between physiologically divergent individuals. Most health professionals feel that more scientific studies are required to establish better replacement guidelines and advise taking the supplement only under the supervision of a physician.

Although many women take low doses of DHEA (25-50 mg/day) and experience body fat loss with no virilizing effects, many experts don't advocate supplementing with DHEA unless you are at least 30 and are receiving replacement dose advice from a trained professional.








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