DHEA, Adrenal Stress, and Aging
I’ve been reading a lot about the adrenals lately, the little glands that have the big job of creating our most important hormones, including adrenaline, the sex hormones, and cortisol. We’ve all heard about “the dark side” of cortisol – too much of it being a sign of chronic stress, causing inflammation, weight gain, depression, even panic disorders. But working properly, cortisol regulates the body’s conversion of fat, protein, and carbohydrates to energy, as well as playing a role in the regulation of cardiovascular function. Adrenaline and norepinephrine have similar functions as the hormones that activate our “fight or flight” response, assisting in glucose metabolism, and maintaining blood pressure.
The adrenals also produce DHEA, which is a precursor hormone that is converted in the body into either estrogens or androgens. DHEA production peaks in young adulthood, declining by 80% in old age; which seems to underlie much of the cognitive decline associated with aging. Furthermore, it has been estimated that up to 50% of sex steroids in men and up to 100% of sex steroids in menopausal women are derived from DHEA… so stopping the decline of DHEA is an important step in protecting our bodies and brains as the birthdays pile up, especially for women.
There are other factors that contribute to low DHEA levels in the body, namely excessive caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or nicotine use; nutritional imbalances; and a vegetarian diet very low in cholesterol and fat. DHEA supplements seem to work by lowering cortisol and increasing the insulin growth factor (IGF-1) produced by metabolism of HGH; and boosting the body’s natural synthesis of cholesterol and DHEA into sex hormones. Studies have shown that supplementing DHEA can be an equally beneficial and potentially safer way to balance hormones in the body while eliminating fatigue and enhancing mood, memory and feelings of well-being than using HRT.
More studies about DHEA here and here.
My doctor recommends DHEA supplementation as well, even prescribing it to patients as part of HRT. I’m sitting out the HRT, but take 10mg per day as part of my protocol. Lots of brands on the market, but I use Vital Femme now; my doctor even has her own private label, so there are tons of options. Some of the studies I’ve read prescribe up to 50 mg/day for both men and women, but more than 10 mg for women has been associated with aggressive behavior and facial hair growth – I’m aggro enough without a mustache, so I’ll keep it low. 😊
Would love to hear about your experience with DHEA – did it make a difference?
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