Another of my old posts from another board:
Q: I've been feeling really tired for a while now. My doctor checked my DHEA level which was very very low -- less than the level typical for an 80 yr. old woman and I am less than half of that! Could you please suggest some supplements for me? I know that there are DHEA supplements but these aren't available in Canada. Is there something else I can take? Thanks!
A: I have never been a fan of hormonal substitutes, including glandulars. With hormone replacements there is a great risk of atrophying the glands that normally produce the hormones. There are two reasons for this. One is a feedback mechanism in which if high hormone levels are perceived in the body the gland will be shut down to compensate. Secondly, glands are like muscles and must be worked to be kept healthy. Substituting for the glands makes them weak over time. I have seen some people claim that DHEA does not atrophy glands like other hormones, but rather leaves the adrenals producing the same level of hormones. Of course even if DHEA was not atrophying the glands and was leaving the glands to produce DHEA at the same level then the adrenals would still be producing at a diminished output. Therefore, the DHEA would do nothing to boost adrenal performance.
Many hormonal supplements provide levels of hormones excessively high to the body. For instance Premarin is 3000 times stronger than human estrogens. And the average melatonin tablet is 3mg, yet the body generates melatonin is picograms, which is a thousandth of a milligram. In addition, many hormones are cumulative in the body, and can lead to hormone imbalances with extended use. For instance progesterone creams lead to a build up of progesterone in the fat tissues. This in turn can lead to a condition known as progesterone dominance, which has many of the same side effects as estrogen dominance. So many women using progesterone creams thinking they have estrogen dominance may actually be suffering from progesterone dominance, and making the condition worse by adding more progesterone.
DHEA is classified as a weak androgen (male hormone). It is converted in to estrogen and testosterone, but not the balancing progesterone. This may lead to problems of elevated estrogen, including weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, problems with blood sugar, and problems with elevated testosterone, including increased body hair, and loss of scalp hair. There is also a lot of concern about the possibility of causing cancer or promoting existing cancers. There is not enough known about the actual long term effects of this hormone. Many of the studies on DHEA were done on rats, which do not have the same chemistry of humans. And the few human studies I have seen on DHEA were short term studies looking for improvement of certain symptoms, not side effects including the risk of adrenal atrophy. Overall I really think that DHEA supplements should be avoided!
DHEA is normally thought to decline due to age, though this is not necessarily the case. Primary production of DHEA occurs in the adrenal glands. Therefore adrenal function may directly affect DHEA levels. And the majority of the people are exposed daily to two of the biggest weakening factors for the adrenals, stress and stimulants. Stress can be physical, such as pain, or emotional. And both can be increased by reduced adrenal function since the adrenals produce the anti-inflammatories and anti-stress hormones for the body. Stimulants include caffeine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and nicotine. Various pharmaceuticals can weaken adrenal function. The best known of these are steroids, such as Prednisone. Though anti-seizure medications, antifungals, cold medications, asthma medications, etc. can also cause adrenal weakness.
In short it is safer and more effective to build up your adrenal glands so they will produce their own DHEA at proper levels, rather than raising levels artificially to abnormally high levels. This is best addressed with vitamin C and pantothenic acid, the most important nutrients for proper adrenal function, and adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogenic herbs get their name from their ability to help people to adapt to stress by improving adrenal function.