I’m so into helping you understand yourself better – I’m running a special series on Hormones. Each week we will specifically talk about one of your main hormones, what it does and why you need it to be happy. It’s all in attempt to gear you towards finding clues and improving your own health. Today we’re digging into DHEA, aka dehydroepiandrosterone (definitely don’t attempt to say that after more than two glasses of wine!).
DHEA is a member of the androgen family.
It’s mostly made in the outer layer of the adrenals (the glands that secrete your stress hormones, mainly cortisol & adrenaline, which you will learn more about too in this series) and is considered one of the most plentiful circulating steroid hormones in the body. DHEA is a prohormone that basically helps to balance cortisol, much like how progesterone helps balance oestrogen. We are all living at a time where stress is high and so often can become the norm. When this happens we can find our cortisol out of control. DHEA is there to lend a helping hand and balance the negative effects of your out of control and overbearing cortisol (consider cortisol like the mother in law in the TV show, Everybody Loves Raymond, bossy!).
Why you need it:
DHEA plays an important role in mood regulation, immunity, libido and cardiovascular health. It’s said to reduce bad cholesterol and because it helps to build and repair protein, it also assists in increasing muscle mass and energy. Vaginal dryness may also be associated with low DHEA.
What makes it special:
It can be converted to testosterone when needed or act as a weak oestrogen – it’s a little bit clever!
Symptoms of imbalance:
We all need balance. Too much DHEA has been associated with depression in menopause as well as acne for those suffering from PCOS. Now you may be nowhere near menopause and have a fairly low care factor thinking you’ve got your whole life to live in the interim. Please, keep reading. Since DHEA is made in the adrenals, often low DHEA occurs before cortisol flattens. Daily stress continues to make its mark, more than we want to admit. We aren’t great with deciphering between the stress of the daily grind, poor nutrition, emotional pressure – our body only knows stress. It’s this same stress that eventually leads to adrenal fatigue. So whilst you’re not ready to shut the hormone shop just yet (newsflash, you never can actually shut the shop, but your baby making days will someday be over), it’s what you do now that paves the way for healthy hormones in years to come. Think less of those more obvious menopausal symptoms like weight gain and crazy emotions. Minimising these is possible with the right care throughout your womanhood.
As for those with acne and PCOS – it may be music to your ears. Not only might you see increased acne, but also as a result of high DHEA, hair growth as well as mild anxiety.
Keeping DHEA happy:
First up, it’s about keeping your stress levels happy. We must choose better when it comes to stress and remember that stress is much more about inflammation, vitamin and mineral deficiency and lack of regulation (i.e. blood sugar levels) than it is you being overworked, although the latter absolutely contributes. We simply cannot go on living in a state of long term, heightened pressure before our body’s inner workings give way. It isn’t maintainable and it will increase DHEA in attempt to keep cortisol tamed. But what we can do however, is help our bodies cope better with stress. Everything you need to get that sorted is right here.
Korean Red Ginseng for many natural health care practitioners is recommended to assist in addressing DHEA. A study showed that as little as 6 grams per day over thirty days improved cortisol to DHEA ratios and addresses many symptoms including insomnia and depression. A common dose is around 200mg per day for around 12 weeks.
You can supplement DHEA with a prescription from your health care practitioner however it doesn’t really fix the core issue. Addressing the ‘driver’ or the reason why your DHEA is low (stress from high cortisol) will help you tremendously long-term – because you’ve got your whole life to live, so let’s make it count!