What is DHEA
DHEA has other names such as dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and dehydroepiandrosterone. Our adrenal glands produce a steroid hormone dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA. Our body then converts this hormone to either a male sex hormone (testosterone) or a female sex hormone (estrogen). The level of the DHEA that our body produce is at its peak in the early 20’s and starts to decline as we age. This is the reason why DHEA is gaining interests especially with its role on aging. People suffering from diseases such as AIDS, osteoporosis, type 2 Diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, anorexia, kidney disease, heart disease and breast cancer show low levels of DHEA thus DHEA supplements are being advertised as an anti-aging hormone. Also, DHEA are depleted through some medications such as danazol, insulin, corticosteroids and opiates.
Our body manufactures the DHEA naturally but supplements for DHEA are manufactured in laboratories through a substance that is found in wild yams and soybeans, the diosgenin. Creams of wild yams are used as supplements for promoting DHEA as a natural source but then our body cannot convert the DHEA from the wild yam cream on its own therefore it needs to be converted in a laboratory. In 1985, the U.S. market took off all the DHEA supplements because they are concerned that it is promoting false claims with the many benefits it is said to have which is why it was only available by prescriptions back then. But, in 1994 when the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act had been passed, it had been reintroduced again as a nutritional supplement.
Why Do People Use DHEA Supplements
DHEA is being used as a hormone for anti-aging and it’s also used when DHEA levels in certain conditions had been found low. But however, some large human studies had shown that DHEA supplements are effective.
Aging – When the DHEA levels of our body gradually declines, this is associated with several declines such as in immune function, bone density and muscle mass. Mayo Clinic has made a study that they published on the New England Journal of Medicine for the DHEA supplements effects on aging, glucose tolerance as well as with their peak endurance, the effects on fat mass, muscle strength and mass for the elderly men and women. In the study that involved 57 women and 87 men that lasted for two years, all the participants had not shown any significant changes in any of all the markers stated. So far this was the longest and largest DHA study on human aging.
Depression – As compared to placebo, clinical trials had been administered to examine if DHEA has an effect on depression and it suggest that it does temporarily improve the depression symptoms as compared to effects of taking placebo. In the study carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health, 46 people ages 40 to 65 that suffer from minor to major depression were investigated. For 6 weeks, they took the DHEA or the placebo. They took 90 mg of DHEA a day on the first 3 weeks then 450 mg a day on the succeeding 3 weeks while the others took only placebo. 23 people had shown improvement while they were taking DHEA as compared to just 13 people who responded to placebo. After the 6 weeks, the placebo testers show that 14 out of the 15 of them were still depressed. Those taking DHEA show that 8 out of the 14 testers were still depressed. With the long term effect on mood changes still show results that are inconsistent and therefore further research on the DHEA effects should be undertaken for depression as the long-term effects of taking the supplement remains unknown.
Menopause – A small study that was conducted suggested that by taking only 25 mg a day of the DHEA supplement helps in reducing the menopausal symptoms. However, some hormones’ levels were also affected which can have undesirable effects.
Obesity – DHEA studies had been conducted on animals and there had been promising results on its reduction of genetic obesity as well as of diet induced obesity. The National Institutes of Health had funded a study that shows the effects of taking 50 mg a day of DHEA as compared to taking placebo for weight reduction on adults between the ages of 65 to 78. 56 of them had been tested and the results show that after 6 months, those taking DHEA had lost 2 pounds on average while those taking placebo had gained over a pound.
Though the weight loss shows minimal, the significant fat loss was assessed to be around the abdominal area. After the 6 months of testing, women who took DHEA had lost 10% of the fats on their abdomen while men lost 7%.
A study that involves a large number of men, at 942, in the Massachusetts Male Aging Study who were aged 40 to 70 was conducted from 1987 to 1989 and again in the year 1995 to 1997. It had been found that men at this age with abdominal fat, also called as the central obesity, were connected to the DHEA levels that dropped. Though the results of DHEA for obesity looks promising on its preliminary results more research are still needed for its effectiveness as well as safety. For now, researchers are recommending to try other methods for weight reduction.
Osteoporosis – DHEA supplements in studies show that it helps in increasing the bone density. DHEA supplements are usually taken orally or as a cream that is applied to the inner thigh. Though, DHEA does not show any improvement for the younger people but evidence suggests that DHEA supplementation is helpful for older women with osteoporosis. Still, further research is needed.
Sexual Dysfunction – DHEA as studied for erectile dysfunction as well as the sexual functions on both men and women show very inconsistent results. A year study that involved 280 people taking 50 mg a day of the DHEA supplement had improved the libido of women aging 70 and above but has no effect in younger men and women. Other studies have inconsistent results that are not too meaningful or the duration of the treatment on the study had been short.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus – The Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE is an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissue. DHEA, according to some scientific evidence, shows that it may improve the mental function of the patient as well as aid in the increase in the bone mass of female patients suffering from SLE. Prasterone otherwise known as Prestara is a synthetic form of DHEA that is being investigated for the treatment of SLE as well as for the prevention of bone mineral density loss. The Food and Drug Administration has granted the synthetic DHEA the orphan drug status for its prevention of bone mineral density loss for patients of SLE who are taking corticosteroids.
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