In my work as an integrative functional physician in Beverly Hills, I help patients learn about the different hormone treatments available for anti-aging concerns. One such hormone replacement therapy involves DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone).

What is DHEA?

DHEA, a steroidal hormone, is one of the most abundant hormones in the human body. Produced in the adrenal glands located just above the kidneys, it metabolizes into male and female sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen).

What lowers DHEA?

A variety of factors can diminish DHEA levels: elevated insulin levels, certain pharmaceuticals (e.g., birth control pills, corticosteroids, opiates), menopause, andopause (“manopause”), adrenal insufficiency, high blood pressure, heart disease, serious illness (e.g., cancer), smoking, and excess drinking.
DHEA also declines with age. Production levels peak at 25 and begin to diminish after 30, and in general, men produce more than women. By the time a woman is 70, her DHEA levels are 20% of what they were when she was 20.

Stress plays a role in low DHEA, too. First, the two have an inverse relationship: As cortisol (the main stress hormone) increases, DHEA production is reduced. Second, cortisol increases also increase the body’s consumption of DHEA. According to some studies, restoring DHEA levels will decrease the production of cortisol and another stress hormone, corticosterone. Managing stress can help reduce cortisol and thus improve DHEA levels.

Why take DHEA?

Because DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen, increasing DHEA can stimulate the production of these hormones, too. Enhancing the sex hormones can help mitigate several markers of the aging process. Patients going through andropause or menopause may need to supplement with DHEA which will be determined by lab testing. In fact, DHEA maybe most helpful in women in perimenopause and men with early testosterone decline.

The following is a list of some of the potential benefits of DHEA:

  • It may lower cholesterol. DHEA can lower cholesterol levels modestly, and one study suggests that DHEA replacement may reduce “bad” cholesterol (HDL) in females.
  • It may also lower insulin levels. DHEA can help stabilize blood sugar by lowering insulin levels modestly.
  • It may boost the immune system. DHEA enhances the immune system response by stimulating the thymus gland, which produces T cells (white blood cell powerhouses for your immune system). It also favorably affects certain white blood cells, which can potentially decrease the risk of infections and malignant tumors.
  • It may boost moods, too. One study suggests that DHEA treatment can relieve mild to moderate depression symptoms; the hormone binds to specific receptors, with the potential result of opening up calcium channels. This can have a positive impact upon depression, memory, and cognition.
  • It improves symptoms for a number of conditions and diseases. DHEA can ameliorate symptoms associated with obesity and autoimmune diseases, lupus, adrenal insufficiency, and Epstein-Barr.
  • It may provide a modest decrease in cardiac risk for men. Also, better outcomes have been reported with DHEA treatment in the aftermath of cardiac stent insertion.
  • It may reduce menopause symptoms for women. DHEA can mitigate psychological symptoms of menopause by boosting beta-endorphin levels; it can also help improve vaginal dryness.
  • It may also help with weight loss and inflammation. DHEA has been shown to possibly play a role in the conversion of fat to lean muscle and to decrease proteins responsible for inflammation.

Note that while DHEA has a number of benefits, it may not be optimal for everyone. Like every supplement, it is not risk-free. Check with your doctor to determine whether your health or existing medications or treatment plan are suitable for DHEA.

If you’re looking for a Beverly Hills integrative functional medicine physician to discuss DHEA options with, call my office to set up an appointment. I’d be happy to discuss your options.