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What Is It Really?

DHEA is a naturally occurring hormone produced in your adrenal gland. No one has yet figured out everything that it does or how important it is, but among other things, it is part of the process by which testosterone is produced. DHEA has been around a long time and has been studied for its effects on heart disease, cancer, mood, viral infections and weight, mostly in test tube and animal studies. It has been available on and off again on the underground for several years, has been used in a few small HIV studies but never in a sizeable long term study that would give us some clear answers about if and how it works, and at what dose.

In 1981, The Life Extension Foundation had introduced DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) to its members through an article that described the multiple antiaging benefits that this hormone might produce. However, the general public did not learn about DHEA until 1996, when the benefits of DHEA were touted by the news media and in several popular books.

DHEA became credible to the medical establishment when the New York Academy of Sciences published a book entitled
DHEA and Aging. This book provided scientific validation for the many life extension effects of DHEA replacement therapy.

The Life Extension Foundation has been investigating DHEA for more than 20 years. In more than 2,000 published studies, DHEA has been shown to have a role in improving neurological function, immune function, stress disorders, hormonal modulation and numerous diseases associated with normal aging.

The most remarkable finding about DHEA comes from a human study by S.S.C. Yen and associates at the University of California, San Diego, in which 50 mg a day of DHEA over a 6-month period restored serum levels of DHEA in both men and women to youthful ranges. DHEA replacement was associated with an increase in perceived physical and psychological well-being for both men (67%) and women (84%). Increases in lean body mass and muscle strength were reported in men taking 100 mg a day, but this dose appeared to be excessive for women.

DHEA (50 or 100 mg per day) was also shown to significantly elevate insulin growth factor (IGF). Aging causes a decline in IGF levels that contributes to the loss of lean body mass, as well as to excess fat accumulation, neurological impairment and age-associated immune dysfunction.

Clinical studies provide evidence that DHEA improves memory, mood, and EEG readings, and may play protective role against neurodegenerative diseases. DHEA was shown to prevent pharmacologically induced amnesia and mental impairment by benzodiazepine (Valium-like) drugs.

Epidemiological studies show that low DHEA levels are associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a new study provides some molecular mechanisms for how DHEA supplementation may help in part to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

In one study, DHEA inhibited chemically induced cancers in the colon, lung, breast, and skin. When DHEA was applied directly to the skin, DHEA prevented chemically induced skin cancer. DHEA had this affect by inhibiting the binding of carcinogens to skin cells and by inhibiting the enzyme G6PDH.

DHEA often declines 80-90% by age 70 or later. DHEA demonstrates a striking ability to maintain immune system synchronization. Oral supplementation with low doses of DHEA in aged animals restored immunocompetence to a reasonable level within days of administration. DHEA boosted beneficial interleukin-2 and suppressed levels of damaging interleukin-6 which is overproduced in the aged, contributing to autoimmune disease, immune dysfunction, osteoporosis and reduced healing. Suppression of interleukin-6 with 200 mg a day of DHEA was shown to be effective against systemic lupus erythematosus.

Elderly people often fail to develop sufficient antibody response to vaccination. For a vaccine to work, the immune system has to generate an immune response to the vaccine. This immune response involves the production of antibodies that recognize a specific antigen on the cell of a virus or bacterium, which directs the immune system to destroy the disease-causing organism. A study in elderly volunteers showed that 100 mg a day of DHEA markedly enhanced the antibody response to the influenza vaccine. In influenza epidemics, 80-90% of mortality occurs in people over age 64. While influenza vaccines can be highly effective in young adults, 30-50% of the elderly fail to generate protective immunity. Elderly people who take an annual flu shot may want to consider taking 50 mg of DHEA daily at least two days before vaccination to help the vaccine induce an immune response.

DHEA has been shown to protect against heart disease and atherosclerosis. A new study using coronary artery angiography showed that low DHEA levels are a significant risk factor for coronary artery disease. Another new study showed that DHEA inhibits abnormal blood platelet aggregation, a factor in the development of atherosclerosis, sudden heart attack and stroke.

A DHEAS (dihydroepiandrosterone sulfate) blood test should be taken 3-6 weeks after beginning DHEA therapy to help determine optimal dosing. Some people neglect to test their blood levels for DHEA and wind up chronically taking the wrong dose. When having your blood tested for DHEA, blood should be drawn three to four hours after the last dose. DHEA testing may save you money if it shows that you can take less DHEA to maintain youthful DHEA serum levels.

The standard blood test to evaluate DHEA status is one that measures DHEAS. The DHEAS is calculated in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) of blood.


The youthful ranges of DHEAS are as follows:
Men 400-560
Women 350-430

People over age 40, who do not supplement with DHEA, usually have serum levels below 200, and many are below 100. Chronic DHEA deficiency is a risk factor for developing the degenerative diseases of aging according to the preponderance of evidence existing in the scientific literature.

Some people obtain a baseline DHEAS blood test before beginning DHEA replacement therapy, however, based upon numerous DHEA blood tests evaluated by The Life Extension Foundation, anyone over age 40 who does not supplement DHEA is already deficient in serum DHEA. Therefore, it may be more economical to have the first DHEA blood test 3-6 weeks after initiating DHEA replacement therapy. There are precautions that should be observed that are different for men and women.

Before initiating DHEA therapy, men should know their serum PSA (prostate specific antigen) level and have passed a digital rectal exam. Men with prostate cancer or severe benign prostate disease are advised to avoid DHEA since DHEA can be converted into testosterone (and estrogen). These sex hormones and their metabolites can promote cell proliferation. It is important to understand, however, that well-controlled studies show that serum DHEA levels are usually lower in men with malignant prostate disease compared to healthy control subjects. Therefore, men are advised to have a PSA and digital rectal exam before initiating DHEA therapy to rule out existing prostate disease, not because DHEA causes the disease. To the contrary, there is evidence indicating that maintaining youthful levels of DHEA may protect against prostate cancer. To reduce the risk that hormone modulation with DHEA could contribute to a prostate problem, men taking DHEA are also advised to take:


Vitamin E 400-800 IU daily
Selenium 200-600 mcg daily
Mega Soy Extract 135 mcg twice daily
  (40% isoflavone extract)  
Lycopene Extract 20-40 mg daily
Saw Palmetto Extract 160 mg twice daily
Pygeum Extract 50 mg twice daily
Nettle Extract 120 mg twice daily
Gamma Tocopheral 200 mg daily

Note: An aromatase inhibitor should be considered if serum estrogen levels are high. Refer to the Male Hormone Modulation Protocol for complete information about suppressing excessive estrogen levels.

Men over 40 should consider checking their PSA and DHEAS serum levels every six to twelve months thereafter. Men should also periodically check their blood levels for free testosterone and estrogen to make sure that DHEA is following a youthful metabolic pathway. See the Male Hormone Modulation protocol at www.LifeExtension.com for additional hormone balance testing that can be done at the same time serum DHEA and PSA levels are being tested.

DHEA can increase serum estrogen levels in women and eliminate the need for estrogen replacement therapy in some women.

To help protect cells (especially breast cells) from excessive proliferation in response to estrogen, women taking DHEA should also take:


Melatonin 500 mcg to 3 mg nightly
Vitamin E Succinate 400-800 IU daily
Mega Soy Extract 135 mg twice daily
  (40% isoflavone extract)  
Indole-3-carbinol 200 mg twice daily
Vitamin D3 1000-1400 IU daily

Women should consider estrogen and testosterone testing when they take their DHEA blood test in order to evaluate DHEA’s affect on their blood levels of estrogens.

Women who have been diagnosed with an estrogen-dependent cancer should consult their physicians before beginning DHEA therapy. Some studies indicate that higher serum DHEA protects against breast cancer, but no adequate studies have been done to evaluate the effects of DHEA in breast cancer patients. If DHEA were to elevate estrogens too much, this could theoretically increase the risk of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells proliferating faster. Women taking DHEA should refer to the Female Hormone Modulation protocol at www.LifeExtension.com for information about restoring youthful hormone balance.

DHEA can be converted into testosterone (and estrogen). These sex hormones and their metabolites can promote benign and malignant prostate cell proliferation. Men with prostate cancer or severe benign prostate hypertrophy are advised to avoid DHEA. Women with estrogen-dependent cancer should consult their physicians before beginning DHEA therapy.

Individuals with existing liver disease (such as viral hepatitis or cirrhosis) might consider taking DHEA sublingually (under your tongue) or using a topical DHEA cream to reduce the amount of DHEA entering the liver. DHEA is converted by the liver into DHEA-s (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate). Those with liver disease should carefully monitor liver enzyme levels to make sure that DHEA therapy is not making liver disease worse.


This information is provided in part by http://www.lef.org/ and other various sources.