WHAT IS DHEA?
DHEA is the most common hormone in our bodies
and is named "the mother of all hormones" as a result of it being the precursor
to over 50 other hormones in the body. DHEA is an abbreviation for dehydroepiandro
sterone, which i s pronounced dee-hi-dro-epp-ee-an- dro sterown. DHEA is
produced in the adrenal glands and is converted on command to specific
hormones the body needs to maintain bodily functions, such as the sex hormones
estrogen and testosterone. DHEA is also responsible for producing hormones
that control fat and mineral metabolism as well as stress. However, researchers
have found that our body has specific DHEA receptors, proving that DHEA
directly effects our body in some way. Overall, it is responsible for maintaining
"youthful vigor, a lean body and many other desirable traits."
Unfortunately, natural levels of DHEA hit peak
levels around the age of twenty and then decrease as we age. In fact, levels
of DHEA when we are 80 are only 10% to 20% that of levels at age 20. Many
researchers believe that "decreasing levels ofDHEA contribute to symptoms
normally associated with aging as well as many degenerative conditions
such as cancer and atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries." Therefore,
it seems likely that it would be of great benefit to find a way to compensate
for the lowering ofDHEA levels as we age. In this way, we may find a way
to possibly reverse the aging process, creating a "fountain of youth."
Sounds too good to be true? Many supplement suppliers have caught on to
this notion and are claiming that everything from weight loss to increased
sex drive can occur by popping a DHEA pill. Supplement suppliers
are selling DHEA in the pill form and suggesting that the general dosage
should be 25 to 50 mg a day, or one tablet three times a day, stating that
the goal be to "provide your body with the nutritional raw materials to
efficiently produce and maintain its own DHEA levels."
WHAT DHEA AND DHEA SUPPLEMENTS CLAIM TO DO AND THE
EVIDENCE SUPPOSEDLY BACKING THESE CLAIMS:
We already know that some researchers claim that
DHEA is the "fountain of youth hormone" and the "master hormone" , and
that it is largely responsible for maintaining many of the body's fUnctions.
Therefore, supplement suppliers are able to claim positive benefits to
a vast array of conditions by taking supplemental DHEA.
One source states that "one of the most exciting
benefits ofDHEA is its ability to burn fat and help keep it off by converting
fat to muscle." Instead of storing calories as fat, DHEA aids in burning
calories for energy. Another source claims that this finding may be one
of the "most significant finds in weight control of this century," because
no matter what you eat, weight loss still occurs.
How does this happen? According to one doctor,
DHEA appears to "create a stabilizing effect on all body systems." Instead
of weight loss "due to the breakdown of lean muscle tissue or fluid loss,"
DHEA is claimed to directly help the body build lean muscle tissue. Apparently
DHEA blocks G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate-dehyrogenase), the major enzyme responsible
for the production of fat tissue as well as cancer cells. Therefore by
blocking G6PD, DMEA blocks the production of these two detrimental conditions.
As stated above, the blocking of G6PD receptors
by DHEA also lowers the production of cancer cell. Therefore, many companies
claim that "DHEA has been found to improve function and to have significant
anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects." One study claims that in the course
of 22 years, women with higher than average levels ofDHEA remained cancer
flee, while women with lower levels developed breast cancer within nine
years of the lowering ofDHEA levels. Animal studies have shown that DHEA
"blocked breast cancer in rats bred to develop it" and that it also showed
"prevention of lung and bowel tumors."
As we age, our DHEA levels decrease. At the same
time, our enzyme system increases, accelerating the production of both
fatty acids and cholesterol leading to major heart problems. The claim
that supplemental DHEA aids in reducing cardiovascular problems has been
shown in different sources. One doctor states that higher than average
DHEA levels in men over the age of 50 were positively correlated with "48%
reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 35% reduction in mortality in
any cause." Conversely, another study suggested that "build-up of atherosclerotic
plaque and higher insulin levels fiom the ingestion of simple carbohydrates
caused a reduction of DHEA levels in the body." Animal studies fiom John
Hopkins have also shown that rabbits who had severe hardening of the arteries
had an almost 50% reduction of arterial plaque when given DHEA supplements.
STRESS AND DEPRESSION AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Some of the major hormones which DHEA is a precursor
are cortisol and adrenalin. These two hormones are directly related to
human emotions such as stress, depression, and fear. The claim is that
every time these hormones are produced, they take the place of DHEA, lowering
DHEA levels. Periods of chronic stress can lead to depression, in which
DHEA levels are continuously lowered. In fact, one source claims that low
DHEA levels and depression are directly correlated. Conversely, it seems
possible to alleviate depression as well as "counteract the negative effects
of stress hormones" by increasing DHEA levels. One study found that, overall,
men and women between the ages of 40 and 70 who took 50mg ofDHEA supplement
every day for 6 months had substantial increase in "perceived physical
and psychological well being" as compared to a placebo control group. The
subjects taking DHEA reported things such as "improved ability to deal
with stressful situations, increased energy, deeper sleep, improved mood
and more relaxed feelings." Some animal studies claim that DHEA was shown
to "provide 100% protection against the potentially lethal effects of stress
on the immune system." Also, recent human studies state that DHEA has been
shown to "significantly activate immune function" and that it has "powerful
Related to the above findings that DHEA improves
overall physical and psychological conditions is the finding that DHEA
has also been linked to a reduction in fear. It does this by operating
as an anti-glucocorticoid. Anti-glucocorticoids are densely spaced in the
hippocampus, the area of the brain largely responsible for the reducing
the negative physiological process of fear.
No known studies have yet to provide solid evidence
that DHEA supplements contribute significantly to weight loss.
Concerning cancer, however, DHEA has indeed been considered to possibly
become a new anticancer drug. Bores et. al conducted a laboratory study
DHEA was shown to decrease tumor mass in mice. More specifically, DHEA-S
(DHEA in sulfated form) "significantly inhibited pancreatic adenocarcinoma
cell proliferation in vive and in vitro" by successfUlly inhibiting G6PD.
Bores et. al examined carbon deposit patterns of isotopically labeled RNA
ribose in order to see if DHEA-S had any effect on blocking the chemical
pathway that eventually led to the production of a tumor mass (Bores et
al. 4242). The results showed DHEA-S to be a potent inhibitor of tumor
cell proliferation (Bores et al. 4247) .
Another study conducted by Juricskay et al,
found DHEA and DHEA-S to play no significant role in the development of
breast cancer. By measuring DHEA-S levels through radioimmunassay of postmenopausal
women with breast cancer going into surgery along with women that were
in surgery for some other reason than cancer, researchers found that urinary
excretion "did not find any difference in urinary androgen levels in serum
DHEA-S between breast cancer patients and controls in postmenopausal women"
(Juricskay et al. 86).
However, one study did find that treating mice
with DHEA-S led to a "significant reduction of proliferation of human pancreatic
cells and in mice. Supporting the results ofBoros et al., Melvin et al,
injected DHEA-S via intraperitoneal injection into mice and human cells
for five consecutive days and observed that after 3 weeks oftreatment,
tumor size decreased by 73%.
Yoneyama et al. found that some studies have found
an "inverse correlation between the serum level of DHEA-S and the incidence
of coronary heart disease in males" (Yoneyama et al. 833). It has already
been proven that such hormones as estrogen or glucocorticoids lessens the
growth of vascular smooth muscle cells. Therefore, they hypothesized that
perhaps DHEA/DHEA-S attenuates "the proliferation of vascular intimal cells
and prevented the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, resulting in the
retardation of atherosclerosis." This was tested by examining effects of
DHEA on "the growth of human aortic smooth muscle cell (hASMC). Results
showed that DHEA attenuated the growth of hASMC only when aided by "various
growth mediators" in adult males (Yoneyama et al. 833). Further explanation
must be produced in order to find a greater understanding of how DHEA/DHEA-S
is related to hASMC and how it can most productively aid in the prevention
of heart disease.
STRESS. DEPRESSION AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Vaccine trials administered to humans by Evans
et al. support the findings that DHEA "improved the antibody responses
of aged animals against vaccines to which the recipient is naive (Evens
et al. 1535)." As organisms age, their immune response weakens, therefore
vaccinations do not work as well. However, when DHEA is used as an oral
adjuvant in humans, it has a positive effect on the effectiveness of vaccines
in elderly individuals compared to elderly individuals in a placebo controlgroup.
However, the results were not statistically significant, and the researchers
suggest that "larger trial using DHEA as an adjuvant in vaccines that are
neoantigens may be indicated" (Evans 1530).
Bores, L.G., et al. "Oxythiamine and Dehydroepiandrosterone Inhibit
the Nonoxidative Synthesis
ofRibose and Tumor Cell Proliferation." Cancer
Research; 1997 Oct Vol 57(19) 4242-8.
Juricskay, S., et al. "Urinary Steroids at Time of Surgery in Postmenopausal
Women with Breast
Cancer." Breast Cancer Research and Treatment;
1997 May Vol 44(1) 83-9.
Evans, T.G., et al. "The Use of Oral Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
as an Adjuvant in Tetanus
and Influenza Vaccination of the Elderly."
Vaccine; 1996 Nov Vol 14(16) 1 53 1-7.
Melvin, S.W., et al. "Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate Inhibits Pancreatic
Proliferation In Vitro and In Vive." Surgery;
1997 April Vol 121 392-97.
Yoneyama, A., et al. "Effects of Dehydroepiandrosterone on Proliferation
of Human Aortic Smooth Muscle Cells." Life
Sciences; 1997 Vol 60(11) 833-8.