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 Dietary Supplements: DHEA: Is It Really the Fountain of Youth?  
 
Susan Lord MD ©

DHEA is hot. It is being touted as an anti-aging hormone, effective in preventing and reversing many of the debilitating changes in emotional and physical well-being we associate with aging and chronic disease. We are all aware that traditional western medicine has made impressive contributions in managing acute medical emergencies, but has less to offer the vast majority of people whose lives are limited by chronic disability. What is interesting about the data collected thus far is that low levels of DHEA appear to correlate with many aspects of the decline from vigorous good health in to what we think of as old age. What is even more interesting is that low-dose, physiologic supplementation with DHEA, in appropriate cases, appears to enhance one's health and sense of well-being. Used like a medicine in higher doses, it appears to ameliorate many serious disease processes.

Over the last few years, this hormone has caught the attention of physicians who follow the literature carefully, looking for new ways to help patients with medical problems unresponsive to traditional therapies. The following conditions have been associated with levels of DHEA lower than those of healthy people: cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, cancer Alzheimer's disease, memory disturbances, autoimmune disease including AIDS, chronic fatigue, poor immune response to infection, osteoporosis and manifestations of aging.

Backed by numerous animal a few human studies, physicians prescribing DHEA have compiled impressive anecdotal evidence of a wide range of benefits, without significant side effects, for patients with these conditions. Of course, we are all hoping for more clinical trials to document the efficacy and safety of DHEA, but until then, physicians and their patients, familiar with the data, may want to consider a trial of supplementation for recalcitrant health problems.

DHEA is but one of the hormones, made in various glands and organs, which facilitate communication in the body, keeping biological processes in balance and running smoothly. DHEA, which stands for dehydroepiandrosterone, is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body. It is synthesized by the adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes. Secretion of DHEA peaks by the age of 25, after which levels gradually decrease by about 80 to 90 percent by the age of 70. Scientists have long been interested in the therapeutic uses of other hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and corticosterone, but DHEA has been relatively ignored, largely because its functions could not be ascertained. Until recently, scientists believed that DHEA merely formed the pool from which other active hormones could be synthesized. However, we now know that there are specific receptors on cells for the DHEA molecule, indicating the likelihood that it has specific functions of its own.

Here are a few examples of the research that has been done.

Heart disease. Men with heart disease have lower levels of DHEA-S than healthy men. Healthy men with low levels of DHEA-S were 3.3 times more likely to die of heart disease than those with high levels. DHEA lowers serum LDL cholesterol.

Obesity. Mice bred for obesity do not become obese when their diets are supplemented with DHEA.

Cancer. Mice bred for breast cancer do not develop cancer when their diets are supplemented.

Autoimmune disease. Patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and ulcerative colitis usually have very low levels of DHEA, especially if they are taking steroids. When supplemented, they had improved stamina and sense of well-being. Lupus patients had significant improvement of their kidney disease.

(Excerpted from Mind-Body Connection)
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