Is DHEA the magic bullet to boost your energy? In this day and age, so many of us talk about being tired. We have stressful and busy lives. Some of us have to work a full time job, run a business, take care of family, teenagers and elderly parents. Simply put, we are exhausted. One of the most frequent concerns that I hear from my patients is “I am tired. Can you give me something to boost my energy?”. Looking at the wide array of supplements you can find online and on the shelves of pharmacies or health food stores, there seems to be plenty of choices. But do they actually work? Which one do we get? Are there any side effects?
One of these magical so called energy boosters is DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). Let’s take a closer look at some facts.
DHEA is a hormone produced by your ovaries and adrenal glands (located above your kidneys). DHEA blood levels are age dependent meaning that DHEA levels peak in your twenties and then decline with age They decrease to 20-30% of peak levels between 70 and 80 years of age.
DHEA helps to make other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. In your adrenal glands and liver, DHEA changes to DHEA-S (DHEA-sulfate). You will often see me check the DHEA-S level to determine whether your adrenal glands are working well.
High DHEA-S Levels in females can cause increased body and facial hair, no menstrual periods, acne, hair loss (scalp), fertility problems, deep voice, male pattern baldness, enlarged Adam's apple, irritability and aggressiveness.
Research on DHEA for specific conditions includes:
Aging. Research hasn't proved this to be true. In theory, DHEA supplements could slow the aging process, possibly improving well-being, cognitive function and body composition. In reality, there is no evidence of DHEA being effective in doing the above.
Depression. DHEA might be more effective at treating depression than placebo.
Osteoporosis. Some improvements in bone mineral density have been observed in elderly people with low DHEA. But these improvements were small compared with those seen after treatment with approved osteoporosis medications.
Vaginal atrophy. Limited research suggests that DHEA might improve vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women. DHEA vaginal suppositories are compounded by prescription. DHEA ovals are over the counter and inexpensive. In addition, Prasterone (Intrarosa) vaginal inserts are FDA approved for vaginal atrophy and available by prescription.
Research on the effects of DHEA on body composition, energy and well-being has had mixed results. Most studies have shown no positive effect of DHEA on cognitive function or on muscle size or strength. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has banned DHEA use among athletes.
In my practice, I do not recommend taking DHEA pills without checking your level first. A very low or high level of DHEA-S may indicate adrenal insufficiency or adrenal fatigue. Once I know your level, and after assessing your symptoms, risk factors and other lab results, I may then recommend DHEA for you. There has been concerns about the consistency of DHEA content in OTC capsules in the past. Bottles of at least three brands of DHEA were tested by an independent laboratory and showed that they contained less of the potent hormone than they say they did. For that reason, I recommend compounded prescription version of DHEA. Either way, I strongly discourage patients against taking DHEA without knowing your levels.
To find out if your low energy is related to adrenal fatigue and or low DHEA level, contact me at 602-345-1473. We can determine the health of your adrenal glands through a simple saliva test and take appropriate measures, which may include DHEA.