DHEA is a steroid hormone produced in several organs of the body including the adrenal gland, gonads, and brain. DHEA declines naturally as we progress in age. The body produces the highest levels of DHEA when an individual is in their twenties. It is necessary for the production of other important hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.
Major sources of DHEA are said to be wild yams and soy. Despite this, reports the body can use these foods for DHEA are widely disputed. Contrary to that, foods that may contribute to increased DHEA in the body include licorice root, fish, avocados, chia seeds, and nuts. The hormone is most notable from being reported to offer several health benefits. Continue reading for details.
Promotes Weight Loss
Researchers are currently looking into precisely how DHEA promotes weight loss. Some say the hormone boosts metabolism, which contributes to allows the body to burn fat. Researchers studied the hormone's effects in obese rats in a 2003 study. The rats were supplemented with DHEA for seventeen days, and researchers saw a significant reduction in body fat.
DHEA's effects on weight are also demonstrated in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study featuring thirty-five overweight adults. The adults who took DHEA saw greater weight loss than the ones who received the placebo substance. In a series of double-blind placebo-controlled studies, researchers included 1353 elderly male participants, and in this study, DHEA supplementation was shown to produce a fairly significant reduction effect on body fat.
In addition, DHEA may contribute to weight loss by regulating appetite. A 2001 review details a handful of studies in which DHEA supplementation exhibited inhibitory effects on food intake in mice. In one study, DHEA caused an increase in dopamine and serotonin, the brain's neurotransmitters, which act as appetite suppressants.
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Benefits Alzheimer's Disease
In Alzheimer's disease, brain cells are lost, resulting in the loss of memory with other cognitive functions. In a 2012 review, the decline in DHEA, with testosterone, is linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease. However, it is still possible other factors may be involved. DHEA's beneficial effects were tested in a 2011 study featuring female rats with Alzheimer's disease. Researchers saw an increase in brain acetylcholinesterase activity with 250 mg/kg supplementation. The decline of AChE activity is widely linked to cognitive impairment.
In a different study from 2014, DHEA was demonstrated to improve memory in male rats with vascular dementia. It is widely believed DHEA improves memory due to its inhibitory effects on cortisol, a hormone that the body produces in response to stressful events. The hormone can contribute to memory loss.
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Boost The Immune System
Researchers believe DHEA plays a major in the immune system's functioning. In a 1995 study, DHEA was found to reverse the effects of aging on the immune system's function against the influenza virus. Supplementation increased immune response against the virus.
A 1997 study found DHEA supplementation improved immune function in elderly male patients. The patients were supplemented with a nightly dosage of fifty milligrams for twenty weeks. Researchers saw an increase in monocytes (white blood cells) as well as B cells and natural killer (NK) cells. On the other hand, there was no effect on levels of T cells, IgA, IgG, or IgM.
A 2010 study showed DHEA helped fight against infection by enhancing the immune response. The parasitic agent, referred to as Trypanosoma cruzi, was significantly reduced. With that, DHEA increased levels of macrophages and interferon gamma, both of which help counteract the settlement of harmful substances in the body. Another study, from 2015, showed DHEA supplementation increased immune response against Brucella abortus infection.
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Treats Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
In chronic fatigue syndrome, the patient feels extreme tiredness accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, cognitive impairment, and sleeping difficulties. As of yet, researchers have not been able to identify a cause, though multiple risk factors are linked. Stress is one of the primary risk factors cited in the development of chronic fatigue syndrome. Treatment with DHEA can be beneficial as the hormone cited to have anti-stress effects. Viral infections are cited as risk factors for chronic fatigue syndrome as well. In this case, DHEA's immune-enhancing effects may help combat.
DHEA's effects on chronic fatigue syndrome were tested in an uncontrolled 1999 pilot study featuring twenty-three Caucasian female patients. The patients were supplemented with twenty-five milligrams of DHEA for four to six weeks before the dosage increased. Researchers saw decreases in chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms. A number of studies have shown low DHEA levels in chronic fatigue syndrome patients. For instance, the majority of the patients in a 1998 Japanese study demonstrated insufficiency in the hormone.
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Assists With Adrenal Insufficiency
DHEA reportedly assists with adrenal insufficiency, otherwise known as Addison's disease. This condition is rare, but it develops when the adrenal glands are not making the necessary amount of certain hormones. It causes decreases in blood sugar, blood pressure, appetite, and energy.
The disease and DHEA were linked in a 2000 study featuring female patients, where researchers saw low levels of DHEA in the patients. Supplementation with fifty milligrams daily returned DHEA to normal levels, resulting in an increase in previously affected areas, including energy. In another 2000 study, DHEA supplementation improved mood, fatigue, and overall well-being in both male and female patients with adrenal insufficiency.
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Benefits Aging Skin
Studies have shown DHEA supplements may improve skin health and reduce visible signs of skin aging. Research conducted in 2000 by Dr. Etienne Baulieu followed 280 male and female subjects between sixty and seventy-nine years old. Each study participant took fifty milligrams of DHEA orally daily. After one year, the researchers noted improvements in the hydration of the skin's surface and thickness of the epidermal layer. Skin pigmentation and the production of sebum both improved as well. A separate, smaller study carried out by Dr. Nouveau investigated whether topical DHEA supplements could offer similar benefits for aging skin. In the study, twenty postmenopausal female patients applied a cream that contained one percent of DHEA to their faces and hands. A control group of twenty postmenopausal females applied a placebo cream that did not have any active ingredients. After four months, patients who applied the DHEA cream had brighter skin than those in the control group, and the DHEA cream appeared to reduce epidermal atrophy. The skin appeared less papery as well.
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DHEA supplements may be useful in reducing the symptoms of depression. A 2005 study conducted by Dr. Peter Schmidt followed forty-six patients between forty and sixty-five years old. The subjects had all been diagnosed with minor or major depression, and they took DHEA supplements for six weeks. At the conclusion of the study period, twenty-three subjects had a fifty percent decrease in symptoms of depression. Ten patients opted to continue using low-dose DHEA supplements for one year, and they remained free of depressive symptoms. A large-scale study carried out in 2007 followed more than 2,800 elderly patients. Researchers found low levels of DHEA were correlated with depression. Some psychiatrists recommend that patients with depression consider having their DHEA levels tested, and those with low levels might be advised to take supplements. Patients should always ask their physician about the risks and benefits of DHEA supplements for their personal health needs.
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Research suggests DHEA supplements could be beneficial in the treatment of osteoporosis. A study conducted in 2009 at Washington University in St. Louis followed 113 patients between sixty-five and seventy-five years old. The study participants were randomly assigned to take either fifty milligrams of oral DHEA or a placebo each day. All participants also took seven hundred milligrams of calcium and sixteen micrograms of vitamin D per day throughout the study period. Bone density tests were provided, and the patients were given blood tests to measure markers associated with bone metabolism. After one year, females who took the DHEA supplements experienced a 1.7 percent increase in their bone mass on average, and the placebo group did not have any increase. After an additional year, bone density improvements averaged 3.6 percent in the group of female patients who took DHEA. Male patients did not appear to benefit from the DHEA supplements. More recently, a 2017 study in the Journal of Bone Metabolism noted that patients who had the highest levels of DHEA in their blood also had significantly higher bone density compared to patients who had the lowest DHEA levels. Additional research is necessary to determine how gender may impact DHEA benefits.
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Boosts Muscle Strength
Male patients could see improvements in their muscle strength with the use of DHEA supplements. In 1998, a group of endocrinologists at the University of California in San Diego followed one hundred male and female subjects in their fifties. Each patient took one hundred milligrams of DHEA daily for three months. After the study, there were slight improvements in muscle strength for male patients. However, females in the study experienced no increase in their muscle strength. Other studies have not been able to replicate these results. A study conducted by researchers Villareal and Holloszy that was published in 2006 determined DHEA supplements can boost muscle strength when combined with strength training. During the first six months of the study, half of the participants took fifty milligrams of DHEA before bedtime, and the others took a placebo. Strength training was not completed during this period. During the second six months of research, participants performed nine different strength-training exercises three days a week, and they continued to take the DHEA supplements or the placebo. Significant improvements in leg and chest muscle strength were noted after the second six months in the patients who took DHEA while doing strength training. The supplements increased muscle mass in the legs as well.
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May Benefit Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that increases the likelihood of heart disease. The risk factors include high blood pressure, a large waist circumference, and elevated blood glucose and cholesterol. Studies indicate DHEA supplements may benefit metabolic syndrome. For example, a double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation followed fifty-six subjects over two and a half years. All of the participants had low levels of DHEA at the beginning of the study. DHEA levels increased in the treatment group over the research period, and the study authors observed reductions in abdominal fat in these patients. The authors noted this reduction could help to protect the patients from insulin resistance. Larger studies are needed to see if these results can be replicated. Individuals concerned about metabolic syndrome should see their doctor for an evaluation. DHEA supplementation should only be considered if blood tests confirm the patient has low levels of DHEA.