There are various preparations of DHEA on the market, as well as yam extracts, which are
sometimes purported to be a substitute for DHEA. It is important to understand the differences between these products.
The conversion of the extract to DHEA can be achieved only in the laboratory, not in the human body. Therefore, natural yam extract, while it does have some of its own health benefits, does not increase blood levels of DHEA. This was confirmed in a study published in Life Science
Seven men and women, aged 65 to 82, were given yam extract for three weeks with no change in their DHEA level. In contrast, when the same group received 85 mg of DHEA a day, their blood levels of DHEA doubled.Supplementing With DHEA
DHEA is most often taken in the form of capsules, which come in 5 mg, 10 mg, 25 mg, and 50 mg dosages. Once absorbed, the DHEA travels to the liver, where much of it is converted into androgens and estrogen
. Because of this, not all the DHEA ingested enters the general circulation.
Micronized DHEA (the hormone broken into tiny particles) is more efficiently absorbed by the body because the small size of the particles allows them to enter first the lymphatic system and then the general circulation, initially bypassing the liver. Since DHEA is a fat-soluble hormone
, it is better absorbed when taken with food. DHEA taken orally is quickly absorbed, and blood levels rise within one hour.
However, much still needs to be learned about optimal dosage, timing, and how the hormone is best administered. There is a question of whether it is appropriate to raise DHEA to youthful levels or simply to a level that is adequate, given a person’s age. Clinical trials are under way; in the meantime, clinicians who regularly prescribe DHEA generally agree on a certain range of starting dosages and recommend a gradual increase if needed.
Dr. Lark has found that DHEA supplementation
may be most beneficial for women after menopause. Beginning dosages should range from 5–15 mg a day, then be increased by 5–10 mg a day, as needed. DHEA dosages in women should not exceed 25 mg per day.
Conversely, there is no reason for women who have not reached menopause
or perimenopause to consider taking DHEA replacement therapy. Women with normal menstrual cycles have no need
for supplementing with DHEA, since their bodies are making sufficient amounts of this hormone.
Some physicians recommend taking DHEA in the morning to reflect the body’s own production of the hormone by the adrenal glands. Taken later in the day, DHEA can have a stimulating effect and sometimes causes insomnia; however, for a person suffering from a condition such as chronic-fatigue syndrome, this energizing effect could be of benefit.Note:
Women should have a mammogram and Pap smear test done before beginning DHEA supplementation to avoid the risk of stimulating a preexisting cancer of the reproductive tract, since DHEA will increase the levels of the major sex hormones.
If you elect to use DHEA without a physician’s guidance, buy the lowest-dose products available in your health food store or pharmacy, begin to use it cautiously, and do not go above 25 mg on your own. Let your physician recommend dosages at higher levels, and be sure to carefully monitor the effects on your body.Note:
DHEA is generally considered safe when taken in recommended dosages of 25 mg or less. While some sensitive people may experience side effects with dosages as low as 5 mg, side effects usually occur only when DHEA is taken in much higher amounts.
Anyone taking over 50 mg a day of DHEA should be under a physician’s supervision. Elevated doses of DHEA can actually prevent the adrenal glands from making the quantity of DHEA they normally produce.
For more information on all female hormones, visit Dr. Lark’s Web site