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DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone made primarily by the adrenal glands. It is absorbed from the intesinal tract to the portal vein to the liver. It is converted into androgens in the testicles and estrogens in the ovaries in pre-menopausal women. Whether DHEA gets converted predominantly into androgens or estrogens depends on a person's medical condition, age and sex. It was discovered in 1934 and thousands of animal studies have been done, but few human studies have been done. DHEA found to be beneficial in treating heart disease, cancer, diabetes, weight loss, and lupus.

Humans make between 1 and 2mg of DHEA and 10-15mg of DHEAS per day. In the blood there is about 90% DHEAS and the rest circulates as DHEA. When DHEA metabolized, a sulfate (mineral sulfur combined with oxygen SO4) is added (in the liver) to form DHEAS. DHEA is made mostly in the morning hours. Its levels decline fairly rapidly during he day because it is quickly cleared by the kidneys. DHEAS levels are what is measured.

The pattern of DHEA production in the human body is interesting. The fetus makes DHEA and the hormone is present in a baby for the first few months. There is very little make from age 6 months to the beginning of puberty. From then on levels continue to rise and peak in the 20's. From our 30's on there is a progressive decline in DHEA levels. (Orentriech, 1984) It is estimated that by age 70 only one-fourth of the amount made at age 20 is made.

Interestly, DHEA seems to be an exception to the feed-back loop which governs most steroids in the body. Exogenous ingestion of DHEA does not seem to affect endogenous production. However, there are no long term studies to confirm this.

DHEA can be purchased over-the-counter in pill form. It is made by extracting sterols (diosgenin) from wild yams (Dioscorea family) and cleaving several side chains. There is a series of 6 to 8 chemical reactions to form DHEA. A comparable series of reactions is not knownto exist in nature and certainly not in humans. Therefore, wild yam extracts sold in health food stores will not be converted to DHEA.

Is DHEA safe? A Medical College of Virginia study done in which the researchers gave 1600mg of DHEA per day for 4 weeks to healthy young men without any serious side effects. There was a lowering of cholesterol and decrease in body fat, with a greater response in obese men. Most DHEA supplements on the market are less than 50mg. (Nestler, 1988)

A 1994 study was done at U. of Cal., San Diego. Researchers gave middle-aged subjects 50mg of DHEA nightly for three months. Within two weeks of treatment the DHEAS levels in the blood reached those found in young adults. There was an increase in physical and psychological well-being: enhanced energy, deeper sleep, improved mood, more relaxed feelings, and an improved ability todeal with stressful situations. (Morales and Yen, 1994)

DHEA has been found to have an effect on dreams and memory. Study done in which 500mg of DHEA was given to subjects an hour before bed. There was an increase in REM sleep for two hous afterward.(Friess, 1994)

In 1994, the Washington University School of Medicine too blood samples of 49 males younger than age 56 who were surviviors of a heart attack and compared them to 49 other males of the same age group who had not experienced heart attacks. They found that those with prior heat attacks had significantly lower levels of DHEAS. This association is independent of the effects of several known risk factors for premature myocardial infarction.

One study shown a decrease in platelet aggregation (Medical College of Virginia). A 1996 stud of 1709 men aged 40 to 70 showed those with lowest measured level of DHEAS were the most likely to have had heart disease, even after controlling for risk factors like smoking and diet.

A 1995 study of nine healthy men, average age 64, who took 50mg of DHEA nightly for 20 weeks showed elevated natural killer cell level.(Yen, 1995)

Stress can decrease DHEA levels.(Labbae, 1995) No association to exercise. Study done in which 96 patients with coronary artery disease were started on an exercise program and there DHEA levels did not change after 12 weeks. (Milani, 1995)

(All above from Sahelian, Ray. DHEA A Practical Guide.)

Regalson, W. and Kalimi, M. "Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)- the 'Mother Steroid'" Immunologic Action.
Regalson, W. and Kalimi, M. "Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)- the Multifunctional Steroid" Immunologic Action.
Sahelian, Ray. DHEA A Practical Guide. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Groups, 1996.
Muscle Media 2000, 5/96, p.46.