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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced by the body naturally. Mainly produced by the adrenal gland, DHEA is also produced within the brain and in men, testes. Low DHEA can cause a wide variety of symptoms including fatigue, depression, joint pain, and a host of others that can interfere with living a productive life.
Once DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands or other organs, the human body works to transform DHEA into androstenedione. Androstenedione is then transformed into male and female hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. Producing the appropriate levels of DHEA is important to the hormonal balance of the human body.
With age, the production of DHEA in the body naturally decreases. Typically, males will produce more DHEA than women. This holds true for all age ranges. For both men and women, the body produces the highest level of DHEA in their twenties.
Some believe that adrenal fatigue as a result of chronic stress, poor nutrition, and an erratic emotional state can affect the production of DHEA. If the adrenals is working harder to produce stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, DHEA production is decreased. This can throw the body out of balance, resulting in a host of symptoms related to low DHEA.
The symptoms related to low DHEA can vary and can also depend on lifestyle habits and overall health. For some, extreme fatigue, depression, and loss of sex drive may be the main symptoms. Others may experience a decrease in muscle mass, trouble concentrating, and difficulty obtaining a good night’s rest when confronted with low DHEA.
Traditional medicine recognizes the importance of DHEA, but more research needs to be done to consider DHEA a therapy for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Research shows that certain levels of DHEA may be helpful in the treatment of schizophrenia, lupus, and osteoporosis. The use and effectiveness of DHEA in weight loss, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and infertility requires more research and additional study.
Natural and holistic medicine practitioners may recommend DHEA supplements as a way to increase adrenal function and relieve symptoms associated with low DHEA. Those on other medications need to speak with a physician before using DHEA supplements. Some people experience negative side effects because DHEA is broken down into different hormones within the body, such as estrogen. This can include breast tenderness and body hair growth.
Beyond supplements, the body can be trained to create more DHEA naturally. Exercise, social connections, and spiritual activities can all influence the production of DHEA by the body. This is because these activities reduce stress, and thus reduce the impact of stress on the adrenal glands.