by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Two months ago, Lisa, a 28-year-old mom, came to see me. She was so worn out from mothering two kids and working full-time she couldn’t get out of bed. Just driving to our practice took everything she had. Her tests revealed severe adrenal imbalance and, as so often occurs in these cases, very low levels of an important hormone called DHEA.
DHEA is a natural steroid and precursor hormone produced by the adrenals. It’s also available at health food stores and on-line as an over-the-counter supplement. Manufacturers hype it as a magic cure-all for many things: muscle loss, weight loss, osteoporosis, and depression — even menopause. Recently headlines have linked DHEA to athletes “doping” with steroids, leading to a lot of confusion about DHEA, it’s role in the body, and how it should be used. Now DHEA is being labeled everything from “fountain of youth drug” to fraud – and the very real benefits of DHEA, particularly for women, are getting lost in all the controversy. The truth is that — for the women who need it — adrenal support with DHEA supplementation can make a big difference. I’ve seen it help patients get going again when they feel like they’ve hit rock bottom. But it’s never as simple as just popping a pill. When used appropriately — in a therapeutic setting under medical supervision — DHEA is a critical component to jumpstarting hormonal balance.
Just ask Lisa. After two months of treatment that included lifestyle changes and adrenal support with low daily doses of DHEA, she feels like herself again.
So let’s give you more information about DHEA and it’s role in hormonal balance. Then you can talk to your healthcare professional and make the best choice for your individual needs.
What is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol and secreted by the adrenal glands. The adrenals are walnut-sized organs located right above your kidneys. The average adult makes about 25 mg of DHEA per day (some more, some less) with dwindling production as we get older. Men at all ages have more DHEA than women.
Natural DHEA production is at its highest in your twenties: by the time we reach seventy we only make about 20% of the DHEA we had when we were young. A decline in DHEA with the passage of time is clearly what nature intended — and as far as we know, a healthy process. This is only one of the major reasons we don’t recommend self-prescribing DHEA through over-the-counter products.
Another reason is that DHEA is a very powerful precursor to all of your major sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. (It’s molecular structure is closely related to testosterone). We call it the “mother hormone” — the source that fuels the body’s metabolic pathway: