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Hormones: Why You Need Healthy Levels of DHEAs

picture of a man's back with the adrenal glands that produce DHEA highlighter
Your adrenal glands make most of your DHEA

What is DHEAs?

DHEA is the short form for the hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone. It is a weak androgen or male-type hormone. DHEAs is the same hormone with a sulfate group stuck to it. 98% of the DHEA in your blood is in the form of DHEAs.

DHEA is a building block to turn into other hormones like androstenedione, which can then be used to make testosterone, which can then be used to make estrogen.

Under direction from a gland in your brain known as your pituitary gland, most DHEAs is produced in your adrenal glands, with smaller amounts made in your reproductive organs and brain.

DHEA has many impacts on your body. It affects the lining of your blood vessels, reduces inflammation, improves insulin sensitivity, helps blood flow, cellular immunity, body composition, bone metabolism, sexual function, and physical strength. It provides protection of the nervous system, improves cognitive function, and enhances memory.

You can see why it’s important to have the right amount of DHEAs!

What Causes Low DHEAs?

DHEAs levels decline with age, so sometimes low DHEAs is just an age thing. A low level may be normal for a man or woman in their 80’s, however, we wouldn’t expect that in someone in their 30’s. We have to interpret blood results in the context of what is normal for the person’s age.

Symptoms of Low DHEAs

Low levels of DHEAs may also occur if your pituitary isn’t working well, in severe adrenal gland insufficiency disease (Addison’s), and when people are on corticosteroid therapy or under high levels of stress.

Symptoms of low levels of DHEAs in women include fatigue, depression, anxiety, hypersensitivity to noise, loss of libido, dry eyes, skin, and hair, and loss of head, underarm, and pubic hair.

How Can You Increase DHEAs Naturally?

Since a substantial amount of DHEAs comes from your adrenal glands, sometimes low levels indicate that they are not functioning well. Your adrenal glands are your stress glands. They are what helps you to deal with stress. They are an important part of your hormone-producing, or endocrine, system. They sit just on top of your kidneys. They require copious amounts of vitamin C, B5, B6, magnesium, and zinc to work well. Under conditions of chronic stress, these vitamins and minerals may become depleted. Then your adrenals can’t work properly to produce the hormones that they are supposed to. Supplementation with vitamin B5, B6, C, zinc, and magnesium may be helpful.

Sometimes the adrenal glands aren’t providing the right levels of DHEAs because they aren’t getting the right information from the pituitary gland. This is called HPA axis dysfunction. Support for your pituitary gland requires similar vitamins and minerals as your adrenal glands, particularly vitamin B6 and magnesium.

Addison’s disease may require adrenal hormone replacement, including DHEA.

In adrenal suppression due to corticosteroid therapy, dosage adjustment may allow levels of DHEA to rebound.

Because stress increases your body’s internal corticosteroid production, moderating your stress levels and using cortisol-modulating adaptogenic herbs like ginseng, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, or Schisandra may also allow DHEAs to bounce back to normal.

What Causes High DHEAs?

High DHEAs can also be a byproduct of a pituitary growth that is secreting too much ACTH (Cushing’s disease). Determining if this is the case, requires measuring the blood level of cortisol and a 24-hour urine cortisol measurement.

Elevated levels of DHEAs are also related to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is where your body is making extra insulin in response to foods that require it. This is sometimes the cause of high DHEAs in women with PCOS.

Insulin promotes excessive production of DHEAs from your ovaries/testes and your adrenal glands.

What are the Symptoms of High DHEAs?

Increased levels of DHEAs can cause several symptoms like acne, head hair loss, irregular periods, infertility, genital abnormalities, depression, deeper voice, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and excessive body or facial hair growth in women.

How Do You Decrease DHEAs?

Making some dietary changes and introducing moderate exercise may reduce insulin sufficiently to help your DHEAs come back to the optimal range. Our goal is to reduce insulin, so cutting back on insulin-provoking foods like refined carbs and sugar reduces the need for your body to make insulin.

A healthy diet for someone like this would mean lots of vegetables (6-8 servings per day), moderate fruit (1-2 servings per day), moderate protein (1-2 servings per day), healthy fats from nuts and seeds (1-2 servings per day) and whole, unprocessed grains (0-1 servings per day).

High-Intensity Interval Training has been proven particularly effective for lowering insulin levels. Adding some stress-reducing exercise like yoga, and cardiovascular exercise may also help.

What If the Lab Range Says My DHEAs is Normal But I Have Symptoms of Low or High DHEAs?

Be aware that lab ranges are not based on what is “ideal” or “optimal” for any given test. They are averages of whomever the lab has been testing. Often the people that the lab is testing for hormones, are people who have obvious signs of a hormonal problem. It may be that you are too close to the upper or lower limit of the range and for you, that is enough to trigger symptoms. It may also be that the problems that you are experiencing are caused by a different hormonal imbalance. Low or high testosterone would cause similar symptoms as low or high DHEAs, for example.

If you need help with your DHEAs levels or your adrenal glands or any other hormone issue, book an appointment or call me at 416-481-0222.

Authored by Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

Picture of Toronto Naturopath Doctor Dr. Pamela Frank, Best Naturopath in Toronto many times over
Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), Naturopathic Doctor

Dr. Pamela has practiced as a naturopathic doctor in Toronto since 1999. She has received numerous “Best Naturopath in Toronto” awards. She is registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.

Dr. Pamela Frank uses a natural treatment approach that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, diet, vitamins, supplements, and other natural remedies to restore balance and provide long-term resolution to almost any health problem.

DHEAs Research

Klinge CM, Clark BJ, Prough RA. Dehydroepiandrosterone Research: Past, Current, and Future. Vitam Horm. 2018;108:1-28. doi: 10.1016/bs.vh.2018.02.002. Epub 2018 Mar 16. PMID: 30029723.

Goodarzi MO, Carmina E, Azziz R. DHEA, DHEAS, and PCOS. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Jan;145:213-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.06.003. Epub 2014 Jul 5. PMID: 25008465.

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