Is it possible that dehydroepiandrosterone is one of the biggest health secrets to slow aging? In this series on what’s better known as “DHEA,” I hone in on what role it plays in the body’s aging process.
It was discovered nearly 90 years ago, but still don’t fully understand its importance. It took until the 1990s for there to be much interest in this supplement. DHEA is truly a unique hormone in the human body, as it exists in very low concentrations in other animals. For this reason, because it is a natural hormone circulating in our bodies, DHEA can’t be patented by drug companies. That means they haven’t spent any time supporting research in this area.
The hormone is made primarily in the adrenal gland and to a lesser extent by the brain, skin, testes and ovaries. It serves as a precursor to testosterone and estrogen. Over your lifetime, DHEA will display a certain pattern: a surge before puberty, then reaching its peak at 25 to 35 years of age, followed by a continuous decline as you grow older. By the age of 80, DHEA levels are only 10% to 20% of those in young adults.
It has been suggested that this age-related decline may be partially responsible for the decrease in symptoms of aging (changes in muscle strength, body composition, mood, etc.). Moreover, low levels of DHEA are associated with increased risk of cancer, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, and mortality in elderly men. Low levels in women can cause lower bone density in the spine, hip and radius, as well as depression. For both sexes, it can cause memory decline.
Researchers in Franceconducted a randomized, placebo-controlled study using DHEA at 50 milligrams (mg) a day for 12 months in 280 men and women aged 60 to 79. They found the following:
— Increased bone density in women
— Increased libido and sexual function and satisfaction in
— Greater skin hydration, diminished facial pigmentation
and wrinkling in both sexes
— No changes to the heart
Another French study tested 14 women aged 60 to 70 for one year with 10% DHEA cream applied on the skin. They found a 10-fold increase in blood levels of DHEA, increased bone density, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and improved sense of well-being.
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Even though these studies look promising, we need clinical trials that are longer in order to ensure DHEA is safe and effective for years and years. Moreover, DHEA replacement seems to favor women over men and the exact reasons for this gender difference are not understood. Is DHEA the fountain of youth? No. Or, at least, not yet.