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DHEA--The Mother Hormone
by Elora Gabriel

So much has been written on the subject of DHEA in the past five years, that this article will provide only a basic recapitulation of much readily available material.

DHEA has been termed "the mother hormone" because it is the most abundant hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and because of its ability to convert into other hormones within the body.  Like so many other hormones, DHEA peaks while we are in our twenties and declines thereafter.  By the time we are 70, we only have 10% as much DHEA in our bodies as during our twenties.

Adequate DHEA levels appear to protect against a multitude of degenerative diseases.  For example, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD, found that DHEA levels of Alzheimer’s patients were 48% lower than those in a healthy group of similar age.   DHEA showed a protective effect against diabetes in laboratory mice who were genetically programmed to develop this disease.

Dr. Julian Whitaker states that "Low blood levels of DHEA can better predict a future heart attack than can high cholesterol levels."  A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1986, by Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Conner of UC Santa Diego, reported the following. Two hundred men, aged 50-79, were tracked for 12 years.  Men whose initial DHEA levels were higher than 140 mcg. were less than half as likely to have died of heart disease by the end of the study, even when factors such as smoking a high cholesterol levels were considered.  "A 100 microgram per decaliter increase in DHEA concentration corresponded with a 48% reduction in mortality due to cardiovascular disease, and a 36% reduction in mortality for any reasons.  The natural level of DHEA was measured, and those individuals with higher DHEA levels lived longer and had a much lower risk of heart disease."

Similarly, low DHEA levels are strongly correlated with an increased risk of breast cancer--more so than any other biological marker measurable by science.  In one 22 year study of 5,000 apparently healthy women, it was discovered that 100% of the women who developed and died of breast cancer had DHEA blood levels of less than 10% expected for that age group.  Conversely, 100% of the women with higher-than-average levels of DHEA remained free of any kind of cancer.  Dr. William Regelson has also demonstrated that people with the HIV virus do not suffer from full blown AIDS until their adrenal output of DHEA drops. In his study he showed that the men with low levels of DHEA had twice the risk of full blown AIDS compared to men with normal levels.

While it is one thing to say that low DHEA levels correspond with higher levels of degenerative disease and vice versa, it is admittedly another to conclude that DHEA supplementation will protect from such disease.   Yet, based on data such as that quoted above, this premise seems likely to be true.   John Nestler, an endocrinologist at the Medical College of Virginia, says: "DHEA is one of the most abundant hormones in humans, so it stands to reason that it has some biological effects on us.  If I had to say which of those effects were the strongest, I would have to say protection against heart disease and boosting the immune function."

DHEA levels have also been shown to be an accurate measure of aging and a predictor of mortality.  Perhaps because of this, DHEA has been touted as a "fountain of youth".  I have yet to see any studies showing that this hormone actually reverses the aging process.  To my knowledge, only human growth hormone has the ability to rejuvenate the body.  (Please see my article entitled Human Growth Hormone: Clinically Proven Rejuvenation, for more information on growth hormone.)  A statement by French researcher Dr. Emile-Etienne Baulieu, who isolated DHEA 30 years ago, is a more realistic summary of its benefits:  "DHEA won’t make people live longer, but it will improve the quality of life over a longer period of time and will postpone some of the unpleasant effects of aging, such as fatigue and muscle weakness."

As discussed in my article Hormonal and Lifestyle Factors for Bone Health, DHEA can be of great help in preventing osteoporosis and even increasing bone density.   The topical creams seem to be the most effective in this regard.

Many people who supplement with DHEA simply state that they feel better.  They sleep better, they have less aches and pains, handle stress better, may notice increased libido (as small amounts of DHEA convert to testosterone), and they experience an increase in well-being.

In recent years, DHEA has had some bad press.  Each time I have heard one of these rumors, I have tried to track it down, with no success.  It is conceivable that pharmaceutical companies, who have lost control of DHEA now that it is an over-the-counter product, may be behind some of these scare stories.  The one report that I have on good authority is that the circadian rhythms in the body can be disrupted by taking large amounts of DHEA, such as 200 mg/day, for six months or longer.  It is said that one of the American mottoes is: "If one is good for you, take three."  Too much of anything, even the best food in the world, is going to have harmful effects.  Hormones are powerful substances, so let us stick to physiological doses--amounts similar to what the body produces.  I normally recommend 10 mg/day for women and 25 mg/day for men.  Dr. Julian Whitaker recommends at least 25 mg/day for women and at least 50 mg/day for men.  People who are older and/or sicker are likely to need higher dosages.  Also, both men and women with conditions that may be aggravated by increased hormonal stimulation should avoid DHEA and other hormonal therapies.

Although most people over age 40 will be DHEA deficient, to be on the safe side you can get your DHEA levels checked.  The DHEA sulfate blood level test is recommended by many authorities; blood levels should be between 200-400 mcg/dl for women and between 500-700 mcg/dl for men.  Saliva hormone assays can also be obtained without a prescription.  Please click here to access saliva hormone assays from the nationally known Great Smokies Medical Lab, or from North Bay Diagnostics if you are on supplementation.

Lastly, a word about quality.  Since DHEA has become a non-prescription product, it is now easy to buy in health food stores, drugstores, and even supermarket chains.  Prices are extremely low and quality is often low as well.  DHEA supplements may be contaminated with traces of other substances which may have harmful effects in the body and/or reduce effectiveness of treatment.  The Green Willow Tree has chosen to carry the highest quality and purest DHEA that we have been able to locate.  For more information, email The Green Willow Tree.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.