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Why You Should Take DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an anti-aging hormone made naturally in your body that produces male and female sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen).

As you age, the DHEA levels in your body decrease (more rapidly if you're female).

According to an article on the Life Extension website, by the time you're at the age of 80, levels of DHEA fall by as much as 80-90 percent compared to what they were during your young adulthood.

What are the benefits of DHEA and why should you be getting more of it?

Listen in as Dr. Mike explains DHEA, as well as the many benefits associated with supplementing it into your diet.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: May 8, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Healthy talk with Dr. Michael Smith MD and now, here's the country doctor with a city education, Dr. Mike.

DR MIKE: Why should you take DHEA? I think most of my listeners are probably familiar with what it is. It's a steroid hormone. You know, as a longevity specialist, I talk about hormones quite a lot. DHEA is really, in my opinion, one of the key ones, maybe at least to start supplementing with. It is over the counter, which makes it nice. Just a quick review of steroid hormones, they're called steroid hormones because they have a certain ring, fatty ring type back bone to them. They're made in the adrenal glands, a little bit in the brain, but they're also made in the ovaries, the testicles, you endocrine organs, basically.

DHEA is important because it is the precursor for the testosterones and the estrogens in the body, but it has jobs to do besides turning into the other steroid hormones. I often, in a longevity regimen, I can consider DHEA to be an anti-aging hormone because it's the easiest one to replace. It's cheap. It's over the counter. Blood testing for it is easy to do, but it has so, so many benefits, but, you know, I don't think enough people are taking it.

The first objection that people usually have to taking hormones is, "Well, if I start taking a hormone my body is going to stop making it." Well, if you take a blood test, which is where you have to always begin with hormones, you have to take a blood test, there's male hormone blood tests, female, whatever, but DHEA should be included in all that. If you are in a deficient level of DHEA, or you're not in what I consider an optimal level--optimal level is just a more youthful level, like when you were in your 20s--to me your body's already not making it, so I just want to replace what you're body's not making.

So, this idea that if I take a hormone my body's going to stop making it, well, the reason I want to give it to you is your body has already stopped making it, so I'm trying to replace it in you. But blood testing does come first and we want to make sure, because in some cases you may not need it. DHEA, along with all the steroid hormones, decreases with age. It starts around, for most, people in their 30s. So, from your 30-40s, 40-50s you can lose 5, 10 even 20% of your steroid hormone production. So, start with a blood test. If you're deficient, if you're not optimal, yes, replace it. Don't worry about it. Your body's not making it, that's why we want you to take it. The first thing I want you to know about DHEA and why you should be taking it, is it's good for your mood and brain health. It is considered a neurosteroid.

As a matter of fact, DHEA is known to modulate the release and signaling of neurotransmitters in various brain regions. It actually goes to the brain. It crosses the blood brain barrier, it gets into the brain, and it modulates neurotransmitter production and communication. It's extremely important for mood issues, cognition, memory. As we get older, I think most people are familiar with the fact that we just don't think as well or we get that mental fog. Memory and recall are impaired. There's a lot of good research showing that this is associated with the loss of these important neurosteroids like DHEA. It's even, though, that age-related decline in DHEA may compromise nerve cell function and integrity.

So, here was a study that followed 755 people, for older people, I don't have the age, but older individuals for 3 years. What they found was that DHEA levels declined in tandem with cognitive function, as measured by the Mini Mental State Examination. That's a very standard test we use for cognition. Moreover, subjects who scored better on their baseline Mini Mental State Examination were more likely to have higher DHEA levels than their counterparts who scored more poorly. Having a lower DHEA level at baseline was predictive of larger declines of cognitive function over the study period. That was published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 2009.

So, DHEA, it's a steroid hormone, but a good way to classify it is, a brain hormone. Very important for how brain cells connect and talk to each other through neurotransmitters. So, that's one reason you should take DHEA. How about this one? It's good for your heart. The decline of DHEA associated with aging may contribute to vascular disease and the risk of cardiac events, especially among post-menopausal women. Also in men, decreased DHEA levels appear to be associated with a higher risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease. Observational studies have shown that DHEA levels decline. When they do decline, cardiovascular disease risk rates rise.

As a matter of fact, there are several studies, by the way. I can summarize about maybe 10 studies over the past decade that have shown short-term treatment with DHEA in healthy elderly subjects appears to increase the production of nitric oxide, decrease bad cholesterol and increase testosterone levels. And then, there's also some evidence that DHEA might be able to decrease the amount of inflammation that occurs within the vessel wall--the endothelium itself.

Probably some of the best research, when it comes to DHEA in the heart, is when people have already had a problem, let's say somebody's had a heart attack, and the heart and the vessels are trying to repair, in what we call in medicine, remodel themselves, but the problem is, after a heart attack, for instance, that repair process, that remodeling process, often causes more scarring and abnormal development down the line. DHEA has shown in studies to actually reverse that. In a study published in Circulation in 2006, people who had higher levels of DHEA had more healthy repair and remodeling following a heart attack. That's pretty awesome, I like that one.

It doesn't stop there though. It's not just mood; it's not just your brain; it's not just your cardiovascular system. It turns out DHEA regulates blood sugar. I'm touching on all the big things, right? Brain, mood, heart, sugar levels. I mean, DHEA is right in the middle, smack dab in the middle of all of it. DHEA appears to increase insulin sensitivity and combat insulin resistance, which, of course, is the hallmark of Type 2 diabetes.

DHEA has been shown to have a protective role against diabetes. In fact, one study showed that taking 50 mg of DHEA for 1 year...Now, the amount of DHEA that you have to take is really going to be based on your blood level. It could be 50, it could be 100, it could be 200. It's based on how deficient or how suboptimal you are. So, in that case, it was just 50 mg. That's actually not that much. That's about maybe average. Fifty is a good starting dose, I think, for most people.

So, in this case, taking 50 mg of DHEA for 1 year improved insulin response as seen by the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, which is the gold standard for measuring insulin resistance, with further improvement after 2 years among participants whose glucose tolerance was impaired at the beginning of the study. That was published in Aging 2011.

Another study showed that again, just 50 mg of DHEA every day, taken over 6 months, led to a trend towards insulin resistance. That was published in Hormones 2010. A separate study found that low DHEA levels in 77% of Type 2 diabetic men with coronary artery disease...So, men in this study that had diabetes and coronary artery disease, because diabetes often leads to cardiovascular issues, high sugar levels accelerates cardiovascular risk. In this case, 70% of the men that had diabetes and coronary artery disease, had low DHEA levels.

In this study, they also showed that inflammation was higher. Other types of hormones that are important to the cardiovascular system were lower, and that was published in The International Journal of Cardiology, 2010. I could talk about immune function with DHEA, better looking skin with DHEA, better sex with DHEA. It's an anti-aging hormone. I take it. Do you? Get your blood levels tested. Give Life Extension advisors a call and they'll get you on the right dose.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD.

I'm Dr. Mike. Stay Well.