DHEA (short for dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced in the adrenal gland, which is thought to play the role of a so-called buffer hormone which affects other hormones. Furthermore, DHEA is the precursor for both male and female sex hormones. As recent studies suggest, however, it is much more than ‘just’ a prohormone, because it is clearly a natural substance with completely independent, diverse effects in both humans and animals.
In men, DHEA is produced exclusively in the adrenal cortex; in women, a larger part (30 %) is formed in the ovaries; men always have slightly more DHEA than women. DHEA production in the body is not only sex-dependent, but also age-dependent. The level of DHEA is also subject to a daily rhythm. In the first years of life, only small amounts of DHEA are produced, and at the age of six to seven larger amounts are detectable; the highest level is reached at 25 years of age; then, the level drops steadily from there – it stands at 10 % at the age of 75 and at 5 % at the age of 85.
Within the cell, dehydroepiandrosterone is split as a prohormone into male hormones (androgens) and female hormones (oestrogens).
The importance of just one substance that benefits our hormones specifically becomes clear when you realise the actual, very wide-ranging effects and regulatory functions of hormones on our body cells. From controlling our egg and sperm cells and aiding fertilisation to the growth of an unborn child in the womb, the regulation of the birth process, the development of the human body, the regulation of the immune system, the utilisation of nutrients and so on... hormones control our bodies’ vital functions.
DHEA was first discovered in urine by Butenandt and Dannenbaum in 1934; it was first isolated from the blood in 1954 and DHEA has been considered a so-called anti-ageing hormone since the 1980s.
As dry and complex as this may sound at first, taking DHEA as a nutritional supplement seems to have a positive effect on the above mechanisms in the body. DHEA is sold as a supplement in the big health stores in the US and has been taken by millions of Americans, without side effects, for many years.
Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone
The quote by Dr. Julian Whitaker, editor of the renowned US health magazine Health and Healing, describes the effect of DHEA perfectly.
‘The number of areas where supplementing with DHEA can be helpful is just stunning because it can help treat such a wide range of disorders’. (Dr. Julian Whitaker, Editor of Health and Healing)
DHEA works in many ways: it regulates the release of various hormones and can counteract age-related or disease-related hormone deficiency. It is precisely this hormone deficiency that plays a primary role in numerous diseases and in physiological ageing, and DHEA tackles the root of this problem.
An aged immune system is frail and no longer comparable to the defence system of a young organism. According to Dr. Daynes, DHEA can ‘re-format’ an aged immune system so that it can work efficiently again. The refresh effect of a weak and/or aged immune system can be so powerful that many researchers speak of a veritable immune system rocket. DHEA does much more than this; it clearly functions as a biologically potent substance in its own right and has a comprehensive effect on our physique.
General effect of DHEA
The general effect of DHEA is described as follows:
- It strengthens the immune system,
- protects the cardiovascular system,
- has an antioxidant effect,
- is antiviral,
- regulates the metabolism,
- strengthens muscles,
- is anticarcinogenic (counteracts the development of cancer)
- increases libido (sexual desire is increased),
- lowers insulin and increases insulin sensitivity.
Effect of DHEA on diabetes
DHEA can clearly stabilise the sugar metabolism by increasing IGF1 (insulin-like growth factor) production and can have a positive effect on Type 2 diabetes. In studies, DHEA has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity while preventing most typical secondary diseases among diabetics. This occurs through the production of insulin-producing cells, which is promoted by DHEA.
Effect of DHEA on cancer
DHEA has been shown to be one of the most efficient anticarcinogens in many studies, both in vitro and in vivo; it is particularly effective against breast, lung, colon and skin cancer. In his studies, Dr. Schwartz from Temple University, USA, observed a reduction in cancer rates of up to 80 %.
In a British study, 5,000 women were monitored and it was found that most of the 27 women who developed breast cancer had abnormally low levels of DHEA, some as early as nine years before the onset of cancer. Other studies, including those at Temple University, have shown that DHEA can prevent
breast, lung and colorectal cancer. Dr. W. Regelsen of the Medical College in Virginia, who has been researching DHEA for many years, says: ‘Whenever DHEA has been tested in a simulation environment for carcinogenesis and tumour induction, DHEA has preventive effects’.
Effect of DHEA on the heart
DHEA counteracts both stress and depression and physiologically reduces the tendency of platelets to aggregate, which is known to cause heart attacks and strokes, and lowers high blood pressure.
A 12-year study on 240 men aged 50 to 79 studied the impact of DHEA on lifespan. An increase in the DHEA concentration by 1 mg/litre greatly reduced the risk of heart attacks and reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction by 48 %.
DHEA attaches to specific receptors of the intima (vessel wall) and releases nitric oxide (NO). This nitric oxide has a vasodilatory effect and increases blood circulation.
DHEA has also been shown in studies to increase blood flow to the blood vessels by optimising the endothelial function and thus the ability to dilate.
As it also promotes lipid breakdown in the liver, it actively lowers cholesterol levels as ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol is excreted more.
DHEA intake sensationally reduced arterial calcification in rabbits by 50 % in theJohn Hopkins Department of Medicine in 1988; it is assumed that it would have similar effects on humans.
Protection against stroke
Stroke is often caused by stress, high blood pressure, and platelet clumping. DHEA reduces platelets' sensitivity to stress and tendency to form clumps and also significantly lowers high blood pressure and can prevent strokes through these mechanisms.
Furthermore, the DHEA attaches to specific receptors of the intima (vessel wall) and releases nitric oxide (NO). This nitric oxide has a vasodilatory effect
and increases blood circulation. It protects against blood vessel deposits, the dreaded atherosclerosis, and even reduces them by 50 % in animal experiments.
Overall, it is all the mechanisms together that can safely prevent a stroke.
Effect of DHEA on stress
In its capacity as a strong antiglucocorticoid, DHEA counteracts the stress-causing corticosteroid and thus the physiological side of stress development.
Effect on the skin texture
DHEA improves sebum production and prevents age spots; men also experience smoother, wrinkle-free skin after a short time.
Effect on excess weight
In parallel with research on the anti-cancer effects of DHEA, it has also been tested on genetically obese mice, with the result that the group of obese mice receiving DHEA did not put on weight, despite their higher caloric intake, and also lived longer. In further experiments on rats, feeding DHEA to obese rats led to weight loss; the tendency to develop diabetes was significantly reduced.
Building muscle with DHEA – the anabolic effect
DHEA has an anabolic – and therefore a muscle-building – effect. In a study that examined the anabolic effect of DHEA, young men increased their fat-free body mass by a whopping 4.5 kg over a four-week period. The high dose of 1600 mg DHEA/day that was used is also noteworthy here (see also ‘DHEA studies’).
Effect against osteoporosis
Postmenopausal women become particularly susceptible to pathological bone loss, known as osteoporosis. By balancing hormone levels and bringing them back to those of a young person, DHEA successfully prevents osteoporosis. Here, DHEA lowers the IL-6 level, which is responsible, among other things, for the production of osteoclasts known to break down the bone substance.
Effect on brain performance
Research by Dr. E. Roberts indicates that even a small amount of DHEA is sufficient to duplicate the number of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. In addition, DHEA increases nerve cell cooperation and protects it from degenerating, which can lead to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other brain diseases. In animal experiments, long-term memory has been increased, and researchers assume it would have a similar effect on humans. In animal experiments, DHEA was able to significantly improve cognitive functions (see ‘DHEA studies’).
Effect of DHEA against ageing
DHEA is considered to be one of the most reliable bio-markers for determining age status and has impressively managed to extend life by 50 % in animal studies. Animals fed with DHEA not only lived about 50 % longer than their peers, they also looked significantly younger.
A twelve-year study on 240 men between the ages of 50 and 79 revealed something astonishing. According to this study, there is a reverse correlation between DHEA levels and mortality; in other words, the higher the DHEA level, the longer the subjects lived, and the lower the level, the sooner they died. Here, a 1 mg/litre increase in DHEA concentration corresponded to a full 48 % decrease in heart attack mortality, which cannot be emphasised enough, given the
sad fact that one in two people dies of cardiovascular disease.
Further studies showed that taking DHEA leads to an improvement in skin texture, an increase in libido and well-being as well as increased fat loss. Women experience normal vaginal and prostatic secretion again and sexual intercourse can take place without additional aids.
Incidentally, DHEA, which is supplied from outside as a dietary supplement, is accepted as the body's own and can compensate well for age-related loss as a result of the decline in the body's production of the substance.
 Bulbrook, 1962, 1971