The adrenal glands produce the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) which has long
been recognized as an important biomarker of aging. DHEA levels decline with age, so that a 70 year-old typically only has
about 10 percent as much DHEA as a 20 year-old. By the time a person reaches 80 years, DHEA levels have usually declined to
less than 5 percent of 20 year-old levels.
There are correlations between DHEA levels and a wide range of degenerative diseases.
Men who die of heart disease generally have significantly less DHEA than others of the same age. Similarly, people with Alzheimer's
disease and with many types of cancer have been shown to have below-normal age-adjusted DHEA levels. For many years, there
has been a question as to whether low DHEA levels were a cause or an effect of aging and degenerative diseases. Current research
indicates that low DHEA levels are a cause of many age related disorders and that oral supplementation with DHEA can slow
the onslaught of aging.
DHEA also appears to be useful in combating auto-immune disorders, especially lupus
(systemic lupus erythematosus). DHEA has demonstrated the potential for preventing or treating a broad range of other disorders
including cancer (especially breast cancer), obesity, senile dementia, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression,
and weakened immune systems. Supplemental DHEA often markedly improves physical flexibility and endurance.
DHEA often decreases appetite by increasing the levels of cholecystokinin, the hormone
that tells your brain that you've had enough to eat. It also tends to inhibit the conversion of glucose to fat, which keeps
people from gaining as much weight from eating carbohydrates as they otherwise would.
In some cases, DHEA can significantly improve one's cholesterol profile, raising HDL
levels and lowering LDL levels. This effect has not been substantiated in the scientific literature. Scientific studies of
the effect of DHEA on cholesterol have had mixed results. In some individuals, though, there have been reports that DHEA has
had quite positive effects.
Until 1996, DHEA was available mainly through compounding pharmacies* with a physician's
prescription. In mid-1996, over-the-counter DHEA began to become available in some health food stores and some mail-order
supplement suppliers. By 1997, it had become a widely-available nutritional supplement.
Typical dosages of DHEA range from 25 mg. per day upward. Although nothing is perfectly
safe, a 25 mg. per day dosage of DHEA is almost totally without risk of side effects, and will substantially increase DHEA
levels in most people. Anyone using more than 25 mg. per day should have their blood level of DHEA or DHEA sulfate checked
occasionally and be under a physician's supervision.
Supplemental DHEA will increase androgen (male sex hormone) levels in women; and at
some dosage women will experience the effects of this. At doses above 100 mg. per day these androgen effects may begin to
show up in things such as increased facial hair. These effects are slow to develop and reversible, though. You won't suddenly
wake up with a beard. In some instances, too much DHEA can cause acne in women.
The increase in male sex hormones in women caused by DHEA is not entirely a bad thing,
if kept within limits. The adrenal glands normally produce some male sex hormones, even in women. Deficiencies in male sex
hormones are not uncommon in women. Modest increases in these hormones can increase characteristics such as motivation and
sex drive. Many women take DHEA primarily for its testosterone-enhancing effects.
In men or women, extremely high doses (1000 mg. or more per day, or the use of micronized
DHEA powder or DHEA-alcohol solutions at more than about 200 mg. per day) may dangerously limit the output of the heart in
response to exercise.
DHEA will dissolve in fats, oils and alcohol. Liquid DHEA, which is usually DHEA dissolved
in alcohol, is now available and is claimed to be up to 4-5 times as well absorbed as DHEA capsules. (My own personal experiments
indicate that DHEA dissolved in alcohol is twice as well absorbed as capsules.) DHEA capsules are somewhat better absorbed
if taken with food.
In the human body, DHEA is converted to DHEA sulfate, which is water soluble. Most
of the DHEA in the bloodstream is DHEA sulfate.
An excellent source of further information for those interested in using DHEA is a
book published in mid-1996 called DHEA, A Practical Guide by Ray Sahelian, M.D. It is published by the Avery Publishing
Group of Garden City, New
York. It is available in some bookstores and can be special-ordered by others. This book contains
numerous references to the scientific literature on DHEA.
Pregnenolone is a compound related to DHEA that has recently become the subject of
renewed interest. Pregnenolone is made in the body from cholesterol. Pregnenolone is the compound the body uses to make DHEA.
Like DHEA, pregnenolone levels drop with age, though not as drastically. Pregnenolone is also the compound from which the
female hormone progesterone is made.
Pregnenolone was used frequently in the 1940's as an anti-inflammatory medicine for
arthritis before the advent of more powerful anti-inflammatory drugs such as the corticosteroids. Animal studies of pregnenolone
indicate a powerful memory-enhancing effect. It is not yet known how powerful this effect is in humans, but many people are
trying pregnenolone since it already has a long safety record. A typical pregnenolone dose for life extension purposes is
about 20 milligrams per day. During the 1940's, doses were given for arthritis at about 500 mg. per day, with some of the
controlled trials lasting up to two years.An excellent source for
more information about pregnenolone is Pregnenolone: A Practical Guide by Ray Sahelian, M.D. (See the Recommended Reading and Resources section