Of all the female hormones
in your body, DHEA is the most prevalent and circulates in the
bloodstream in the highest concentrations. Women produce about 1–2 mg of DHEA-S per day. This production declines with age.
A fetus has relatively high amounts of DHEA, which functions to ease the birth process. However, by the time an infant is six months old, DHEA production all but ceases, and only revives at age six to eight in preparation for puberty. Peak DHEA production is between the ages of 25 and 30; after this, production declines by as much as 10 percent per year. A person may feel the effects of this by their mid-40s. At age 80, you make only about 15 percent of what you produced in your 20s.
A study appearing in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
documents this. Sixty-four volunteers, between the ages of 20 and 40, had four times the levels of DHEA-S as 138 volunteers over age 85. Patients with major diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s also have significant deficiencies.
The physical and psychological well-being enjoyed in youth may well depend in part on having sufficient levels of DHEA. For many years, little attention was given to the effect of DHEA on humans, especially in terms of aging and the decline of performance functions. Most of the research on DHEA had been done on rodents and focused on disease.
Then a study by Morales et al. investigating the effects of DHEA in older individuals was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
. Volunteers in the study described a list of benefits that made DHEA seem like a fountain of youth. They reported increased energy, improved mood, better sleep quality, and a greater ability to remain calm and handle stress.
Poor lifestyle habits—especially excess stress and a lack of exercise—can also affect DHEA levels. In addition to producing DHEA, your adrenal glands manufacture other hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol is released during times of extreme stress, be it physical, emotional, or mental. When you produce too much cortisol and not enough DHEA, you can throw your adrenal glands out of balance, and eventually strain them to the point of exhaustion. Because DHEA levels are already naturally decreasing as you get older, this imbalance can aggravate both perimenopause symptoms
and menopause symptoms
Additionally, too little exercise may be linked to decreased DHEA levels. Fortunately, a study from Age and Ageing found that regular, moderate aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, or biking increased DHEA production in older people. This is another one of the many health benefits that regular exercise provides for women (and men) of all ages. Are You DHEA Deficient?
To begin to determine whether your body’s supply of this hormone has lessened enough to affect your ability to perform at your best and maintain optimal health, Dr. Lark created the following checklist. If you answer yes to four or more of these questions, you very likely need to increase your DHEA levels.
- I am over the age of 50.
- I experience menopause symptoms such as hot flashes.
- I have low libido.
- I suffer from insomnia.
- I am unable to handle stress.
- I am easily upset.
- I have a negative outlook on life.
- I am often unable to recall details of recent events.
- I have a history of osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone mass).
- I have a history of cardiovascular disease.
- I have significant excess body fat.
- I am at risk for diabetes.
- I have a history of autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and/or AIDS.
- I have a weak immune system and am prone to colds and flu.
- I am at high risk for cancer, especially bladder cancer.
- I suffer from asthma.
- I lack muscle mass and strength.
- I tend to tire easily; my level of stamina is low.
If your responses suggest that your DHEA level is low, then your next step is to get your hormone levels tested.
The DHEA in the blood is a combination of DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S) and unbound, or free, DHEA. It is generally thought that unbound DHEA is most active and that DHEA-S is not fully metabolically active. Therefore, it is important that any lab assessment distinguish between the two.
This can be done using a 24-hour urine test. Some practitioners also think it is important to monitor DHEA levels if an individual has a significant illness, and that at age 40, all people should obtain a baseline reading.
- Range of DHEA blood levels in adult men: 180 to 250 ng/dl
- Range of DHEA blood levels in adult women: 130 to 980 ng/dl
- Ranges of DHEA-S blood levels in adult women:
- Aged 31–50: 2 to 379 µg/dl
- Postmenopausal: 30 to 260 µg/dl
- Range of DHEA salivary levels in women: 40 to 140 pg/ml
If your results indicate that you are deficient in DHEA (or if you scored high on the questionnaire), you may want to consider using bioidentical DHEA. I’ll tell you more about this on Friday.
For more information on all female hormones, visit Dr. Lark’s Web site