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Brief and Straightforward Guide on: DHEA

What is DHEA?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a naturally occurring hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands (i.e. the endocrinal glands located on the apex of the kidney). DHEA is the precursor hormone to sex hormones in males and females (i.e. androgens and estrogens). Physiologically, the levels of DHEA tend to drop after the age of 30. The significance of the hormone has been reiterated in recent studies, and they indicate a strong correlation between DHEA and various life threatening and chronic disorders like anorexia, end stage renal disease, AIDS, adrenal insufficiency and diabetes.

Uses of DHEA

The use of DHEA has been tested in controlled settings on humans and animals. However, the safety and effectiveness of the hormone for the various conditions has not been accurately listed. As per available evidence, DHEA has been found to be useful in the following conditions:

• Adrenal insufficiency: DHEA beneficial in individuals suffering from Addison’s Disease (a condition characterized by inadequate adrenal function). The use of DHEA in these patients improved exercise capacity, sexual drive, overall wellbeing and quality of life. Though the study findings are preliminary, the benefits of DHEA are very promising for the general improvement of condition of patients with adrenal insufficiency

• Depression: Clinical trials have suggested that DHEA can temporarily alleviate the symptoms of depression. Several studies are underway, to assess the benefits of DHEA to manage depression, by the National Institute of Mental Health. Research to review the role of DHEA in the management of mood changes is also underway, but has not yet presented worthwhile findings.

• Obesity: Research on animals has shown some good results of the effect of DHEA in tackling obesity. Similar findings have been elicited on human subjects by the National Institute of Health. DHEA has limited effect on overall weight loss, but relatively stronger impact on reducing truncal obesity, as per a study conducted on 942 men in Massachusetts. Further research is required to review the effectiveness and efficacy of DHEA in managing weight loss.

• Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): Some studies state that DHEA has been useful in improving the condition of patients suffering from SLE, (an autoimmune disease which affects the connective tissue). DHEA has been useful in improving the mental function and the bone density, especially, among women with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).

• Female Reproductive System: DHEA studies indicate that, it can help induce labor. Further, DHEA supplementation has been found to be favorable in the management of ovulation disorders. There are concurrent claims of DHEA having favorable effects in the management of menopausal symptoms like osteoporosis, vaginal pain, hot flushes, emotional disturbances, irritability, fatigue, etc. Furthermore, some research has indicated that the use of intra-vaginal DHEA is safe to promote regression of low grade cervical lesion.

• Crohn's disease: Preliminary research findings have suggested that DHEA is safe in the management of Crohn’s disease. However, the long term consequences of the treatment are yet not documented. Additional research in this domain is required.

• Skin: As per studies, DHEA has been found to have anti aging properties and can be used as a topical ointment. However, study findings are not very conclusive. Similarly, DHEA’s efficacy in managing eczema and psoriasis is being explored.

• Sexual Function: The use of DHEA for enhancing sexual function in both men and women have had inconsistent results. DHEA has been found to be beneficial for individuals over the age of 70 years, but not in younger men or women.

• HIV and AIDS: The benefits of the use of DHEA as an immune booster is currently being explored, with the intention of understanding the impact of DHEA on immunity and the immune system. However findings have not been very convincing.

• Cardiovascular diseases: DHEA supplements have reported to benefit patients by reducing cholesterol levels in blood, and thereby reduce the possibility of plaque formations. However, there have also been contrary claims, of DHEA reducing the ejection fraction, resulting in cardiac failure. Detailed studies are required in this domain as well.

• Schizophrenia: DHEA has been beneficial in the management of depression and anxiety in patients with schizophrenia. DHEA also reduces the side effects of prescription drugs in schizophrenic patients. However, substantial proof is required in this sphere as well.

Using DHEA: Ideal Dosing

There is inadequate information about the ideal dose for DHEA, and most of the dosage recommendations are based on research, traditional use and expert opinion.
DHEA is available in various forms including capsules, tablets and injections. Also, there are several DHEA supplements which include herbs and supplementary products, that claim to stimulate the production of DHEA in the body, through the natural process.

Dosage recommendations for adults: between 25-200 milligrams per day, while higher doses are indicated in patients with depression, HIV or AIDS.

Dosage recommendations for children have yet not been studied. But, it is said to interfere with the normal hormone balance and affects the production of other hormones.

Side effects of DHEA

Few side effects have been reported with the use of DHEA supplements.
These side effects include - headache, acne, nasal congestion, fatigue, irregular heart-beat, etc.

The use of DHEA supplements have also been found to produce ‘masculinization of women’ which is presented in the form of deeper voice, hair loss, increased sweating and weight gain around the waist. In male patients, gynecomastia (enlargement of male breasts) is observed. DHEA is also known to interfere with several other drugs, resulting in complications like - liver damage and cardiac arrhythmias.

DHEA has been found to increase, modify or modulate the effect of anti retroviral treatment in HIV-AIDS, barbiturates (medications for sleep disorders), cancer treatment, oral contraceptives, estrogen and testosterone. Further, it also amplifies the effect of alprazolam, diazepam and triazolam, which are commonly used for the management of anxiety and sleeping disorders.