What is DHEA?
DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone is considered as a prohormone, which is often associated with longevity, body strength, and lean muscle mass in an individual. DHEA is naturally created in the body and has a vital role in various metabolic functions. It is also known as one of the most abundant hormones in the body. Naturally occurring DHEA is primarily produced by the adrenal glands, but men also secrete this hormone from their testes. Once DHEA is produced in the body, it is converted into several other hormones such as androstenedione and various sex hormones. Thus, it has earned the nickname "the parent hormone".
In certain ways, DHEA is said to similarly work to natural anabolic steroids since it helps in boosting the production of natural growth hormones, which are known to help in building lean muscle mass and fighting fat accumulation in the body. It is the reason why DHEA supplements are quite popular among bodybuilders and athletes. Even though DHEA supplements are considered safe, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of DHEA supplements since the effects can be very strong.
The uses of DHEA is much more than just improving body composition. DHEA is also known to improve:
- Bone density
- Cholesterol levels
- Heart health
- Body weakness or fatigue
- Estrogen and testosterone production
However, the levels of DHEA also decline as people age, especially after 30. It is usually the time when weight gain, low libido, sluggishness, and a rise in inflammation are experienced. DHEA is one of the rapidly reducing hormones in the body. DHEA loss accelerates every 10 years after the age of 30. In fact, only around 10-20 percent of DHEA is produced when someone reaches the age of 70 and above.
6 Health Benefits of DHEA
1. Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is often considered as the root cause of most diseases. It is also tied to most age-related health problems. However, restoring the natural production of DHEA with certain lifestyle changes and taking DHEA supplements can help improve a number of youthful qualities. With proper levels of DHEA in the body, inflammation would be reduced. Hormones are also balanced, thereby facilitating an increase in energy levels with a leaner body and more of vitality.
When DHEA is taken in the form of supplements, it helps boosts estrogen and testosterone production, prevents certain autoimmune conditions, and helps prevent the development of mood disorders such as depression. Studies have shown that individuals with metabolic syndrome tend to have low DHEA levels. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that can lead to stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
Research shows that obese adults tend to produce lesser DHEA compared to healthy adults. Moreover, low levels of DHEA are associated with chronic inflammatory diseases, which include autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and lupus.
2. Improves Bone Density and Promotes Lean Muscle Mass
DHEA is often associated with anti-aging effects such as preventing bone loss, fractures, and other conditions such as osteoporosis. Individuals are also more prone to bone loss if they have:
- Thyroid problems
- Autoimmune diseases
- Poor eating habits
- Eating disorders
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Hormonal imbalance
Certain evidence suggests that higher levels of DHEA help improve the production of estrogen, which results in better bone density in the elderly and in women experiencing post-menopausal symptoms.
DHEA is not a performance enhancer or a synthetic steroid that leads to an abnormal growth of muscles. It works like a repair signal, which helps the body heal and recover from strenuous physical activities and rigorous training. DHEA helps cellular glucose intake for energy, enhances various metabolic functions, and prevents the accumulation of fats, particularly the dangerous visceral fat.
3. Helps Prevent Depression, Sudden Mood Swings, and Cognitive Decline
Studies show that higher levels of DHEA may improve an individual’s emotional stability. In fact, it is associated with lower rates of major depression. According to research, supplementing 25 to 200 mg of DHEA may help improve mood disorders, anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure), lack of energy and motivation, irritability, sadness, stress, and anxiety. However, the effects still depend on each individual.
DHEA promotes hormonal balance, which is necessary to maintain energy, motivation, and a positive outlook on life. Moreover, it helps reduce the risk of developing a number of health conditions, which also contribute to depression. They include:
- Weight gain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Adrenal insufficiency
The National Institutes of Health suggested that DHEA can be utilized to slow down cognitive decline due to aging. It includes mental improvement among the elderly and slowing the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, to achieve such results, higher doses of DHEA are needed, which can be risky. According to several studies, taking a daily DHEA dosage of 50 mg for a month may help improve memory loss and vision among middle-aged and older adults.
4. Promotes Weight Loss and Muscle Mass
DHEA supplements are usually taken to promote effective weight loss and enhance athletic performance, which concentrates on building lean muscle mass. A type of DHEA supplement called 7-Keto-DHEA helps individuals maintain high metabolism levels along with the prevention of muscle loss and age-based weight gain. This supplement is definitely not a magical pill for weight loss, but it can surely help some people.
Although important metabolic processes such as basal metabolic rate and calorie intake can significantly influence weight management, hormones play a vital role as well. As people get older, these two metabolic processes decline. DHEA comes to the rescue by improving the body’s natural ability to burn fat and use energy. Moreover, DHEA can help the glucose intake of cells, reduce insulin levels, and promotes burning of fat. Since DHEA promotes lean muscle mass, it helps you burn more calories even while at rest.
5. Lowers the Risk of Diabetes and Maintains a Healthy Heart
Although researchers still are not exactly sure why, higher DHEA levels in the body are often associated with a lower the risk of clotting problems, heart diseases, clogged arteries, insulin resistance or diabetes, and high levels of cholesterol.
DHEA may help improve the following:
- Function of the blood vessels
- Risk of heart problems
- Diabetes (blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity)
- Sex hormone production
Animal studies suggest that DHEA may prevent the increase of visceral fat and insulin resistance due to unhealthy lifestyle and poor dietary intake. According to other research studies, DHEA may also interfere with atherogenic processes including enzymes such as glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), preventing atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
6. Improves Libido and Reduces Sexual Dysfunction
Although not yet proven, DHEA supplements have helped a lot of people to overcome sexual dysfunctions, erectile dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, loss of libido, and symptoms related to menopause such as vaginal dryness. The studies carried out for years have shown mixed results. However, few research studies show that men with erectile dysfunction tend to have lower levels of DHEA.
According to research, taking DHEA supplements is said to benefit both men and women with different symptoms related to declining sex hormones. Low levels of testosterone and hormone deficiency in men are contributing factors for problems associated with body aches, sexual problems, and obesity. Taking 25 mg of DHEA once a day for a period of one year can help improve the symptoms. Women who take a daily DHEA dosage of 10-25 mg would notice an improvement in their menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness, weight gain, and hot flashes.