Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an adrenal steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland synthesizes DHEA from cholesterol, which can then undergoes a two-step conversion into either estrogen or testosterone. DHEA can also be taken as a supplement; tried and true DHEA has been recommended by doctors since the 1980s. The fact that DHEA is naturally converted into testosterone makes it a prohormone and made it a popular supplement for athletes, however DHEA has positive effects even before conversion. The most notable effects of DHEA are increasing bone density, tightening skin, boosting metabolism, and it’s action as a neurosteroid makes it an excellent treatment for depression.
Studies have shown that DHEA supplementation increases free testosterone levels, in fact one study demonstrated once daily supplementation with 50 mg nearly doubles free testosterone levels. In this study either 50 mg DHEA or a placebo was taken by male participants before bed, then the next morning subjected to high intensity interval training (HIIT). Free testosterone was measured before, upon completing HIIT, 15 and 30 minutes post HIIT. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Jul;113(7):1783-92 Epub 2013 Feb 17
- Figure 1. Free testosterone level in young and middle-aged men given 50 mg DHEA supplement or placebo. DHEA or Placebo was given nightly and testosterone levels were measure upon waking, before engaging in high intensity interval training, 15 minutes after training, 30 minutes after training, and 24 hours after training. DHEA was found to significantly increase (nearly double) testosterone levels at all point in both young and middle-aged men.
Another study showed that 100 mg DHEA helps to prevent muscle soreness. In this study 16 young men engaged in 5 successive days of mixed aerobic and resistance training, given either placebo or 100 mg/per day DHEA, asked to rate muscle soreness, and tested for changes in insulin sensitivity. It was found that 5 days of training improved insulin sensitivity in both groups, however the placebo group rated high levels of soreness throughout the study while the group receiving DHEA had markedly improved recovery after only 2 days of supplementation. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Jan;113(1): Epub 2012 May 16.
- Figure 2. For 8 weeks rats were given a placebo or 0.16 mg/kg DHEA, and subjected to either sedentary conditions or active training. [Left: A & B] It was found that DHEA lowered fasting insulin levels and improved quantitative insulin-sensitivity check index (QUIKI), while [Bottom Center A] preventing against weight gain. It was also found that active training lowered fasting insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity, however the magnitude of change was relative to an increase in DHEA and DHT levels evoked by training. [Right A & B] This suggests that DHEA and DHT protect against metabolic disorders induced by a sedentary lifestyle, and that physical activity can help increase the bodies production of these hormones, protecting against metabolic disorders regardless of dietary DHEA supplementation.
In men with coronary heart disease supplementing with DHEA was shown to have incredible benefits. In one study thirty men with coronary heart disease were given placebo or 150 mg/day DHEA for 40 days. Before starting supplementation the men underwent a battery of tests measuring insulin levels, insulin resistance index, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and fasting glucose levels, and tested again after treatment, Compared to the placebo group, it was found that 150 mg/day DHEA decreased insulin levels, increased insulin sensitivity, lowered total cholesterol, lowered LDL cholesterol, and lowered fasting glucose levels. In conclusion, DHEA supplementation was not only safe and rated as having no adverse effects, but had marked results on improving multiple risk factors contributing to coronary heart disease. Endokrynol Pol. 2005 Nov-Dec;56(6):904-10.
DHEA and YOU
Studies indicate that DHEA supplementation can yield excellent results at the right dose. No two people have the same body chemistry so dosing will differ from person to person, with sex, age, and circulating steroid hormone levels playing the largest roles. There is substantial evidence for DHEA having positive effects on the bodies nervous system, immune system, bone strength, improving muscularity, decreasing body fat,energy levels. as well as improving sexual performance & satisfaction.
Although individuals of any age can benefit from DHEA supplementation, it may be critical for some older adults to use DHEA as a natural hormone replacement therapy. After the age of 40 DHEA plummets to the lowest lifetime levels, and continue to drop throughout older-adulthood. Concurrent with dropping DHEA levels this age group is at risk for weight-gain, metabolic disorders, decreased energy levels, depression, cognitive decline, development of neurological disorders, and both male & female sexual dysfunction. DHEA supplementation easily remedies this decline, and laboratory, clinical, and empirical evidence suggests that DHEA is in fact protective against these common ailments. Using and benefiting from DHEA supplementation is sexually tantamount, with both genders seeing great results.
Although older adults of both genders report positive effects from supplementing with DHEA, there are specific benefits that may be gender specific. Nonspecific effects such as increased feelings of well being, quality of sleep, body composition, energy level, joint pain relief, and an enhanced sex life are common. For men, DHEA is more likely to convert into testosterone, and is excellent for increasing muscle mass, boosting confidence, improving mood, enhancing blood flow to his “vital” organs to increase sexual desire, performance, and satisfaction. In older women DHEA helps to balance age-related hormonal changes by keeping hormonal levels more feminine, which helps to improve & stabilize mood, protect against weight gain, hot flashes & bone decalcification, improve quality of sleep, increase energy levels, enhance skin firmness, and maintaining vaginal elasticity & lubrication (protecting against painful sex and improving satisfaction).
Young Athletes, Strength Trainers, and Bodybuilders
Although younger individuals have relatively high levels of DHEA, many studies have shown that individuals of this age group that undergo routine rigorous training also benefit from supplementation. The main benefits that young individuals can expect are increased mood, motivation, endurance, and recovery; all of which ultimately contribute to users seeing body fat reductions, increase muscle mass, and enhanced athletic performance. While older adults observe the best benefits from allowing supplemented DHEA to convert and equilibrate naturally within their bodies, younger individuals may want to enhance this process to optimize the anabolic potential of DHEA and ensure proper conversion. To optimize the anabolic potential of DHEA and get the most out of supplementation there are a few key points that young athletes need to consider:
- DHEA converts into both estrogen and testosterone, so although you may get all the beneficial results of DHEA you may be missing out on some of it’s anabolic potential. For muscle building purposes any DHEA converted into estrogen is essentially lost, so ensuring conversion into testosterone will help you get the best results. The best way to accomplish this is to block the aromatase, the enzyme that converts steroid hormones into estrogen. This can be accomplished by stacking DHEA with an aromatase inhibitor such as arimistane, although any common aromatase inhibitor that can be found at the nutrition store or online will do the job. By stacking an aromatase inhibitor with DHEA you not only help to ensure DHEA conversion into testosterone, but also prevent the loss of testosterone to aromatization as well. The goal here is not to completely rid your body of estrogen, but to have a androgen/estrogen ratio. In fact, when circulating androgen levels are high estrogen enhances your bodies anabolic potential by increasing IGF-1 levels, and helping your body retain key nutrients & some water weight. Water weight may not be the most desired factor when attempting to put on size or get shredded, but it does create a better environment for growth withing your muscles.
- Ensuring DHEA conversion into testosterone is a great first step, however there is a way to enhance the activity of newly formed testosterone. We have two classes of testosterone in our bodies, free testosterone and bound testosterone. This is otherwise known as our free testosterone and total testosterone counts, and they are two very different things. Free testosterone is the level of circulating testosterone that is readily utilized and able to activate receptors, however this accounts for only 2% of a man’s total testosterone. Therefore 98% of a man’s total testosterone is in an inactive state, binding to sex hormone bind globulin (SHBG) and bunching together. Each SHBG protein binds many testosterone molecules together inactivating at least 98% of all testosterone, vastly reducing our anabolic potential. Athletes then, would greatly benefit from preventing SHBG from binding to and inactivating the vast majority of the testosterone produce and/or convert from DHEA. The best way to thwart SHBG from preventing high levels of free testosterone is to stack Long Jack extract (LJ100) extract with your DHEA & aromatase inhibitor.
- Strength athletes push their bodies to the limit everyday they’re in the gym and the anabolic edge a DHEA stack provides will help with recovery, fat loss, and gaining lean muscle mass. By stacking DHEA with an aromatase inhibitor & LJ100 young athletes can get great results with a low chance of side effects. In fact it is extremely important to note that this stack can be quite powerful, because unlike supplementing with DHEA alone, the effects are multiplied when taken together. This means that larger doses don’t necessarily yield better results. With hormonal supplements many people report a “sweet spot”. The “sweet spot” is usually a modest dose that varies between users, but is often easily identified by using incremental dosing. Small increases in dosage each day can rapidly take your stack from mild to intense, so when titrating your dose pay attention to notice when small increases no longer yield additional benefits. This means that you have reached the “ceiling” dosage; the benefits have been maximized, and any further increase will be a waste of product. Even worse than simply wasting product, dosing above the “ceiling” may cause or worsen any side effects. So start of low and slow; getting the best results out of DHEA supplementation means creating an anabolic environment that allows you to push your body further than you did yesterday, and this isn’t possible when you’re dealing with unwanted side effects. Doctors report 50-100 mg/day as being the most common optimal dose, and recommend that patients/supplement users start with as low as 20 mg/day to determine a safe and effective dose. The time of dosing is another important factor in maximizing the benefits from using DHEA. Naturally DHEA levels peak at around 7:00 a.m., and when taken at this time each day, DHEA supplementation has an increased effect on reducing cortisol levels, improving wakefulness & energy level, and positively regulating circadian rhythm/quality of sleep that night.
Male or female, young or old; all-in-all DHEA is a solid supplement that’s well tolerated, however it is a prohormone and as such it’s very important to use with care. While I love to help improve people’s quality of life, health, and even just achieving their next goal, the information I’ve provided here is only a template for which I can do that. There is no way to predict how a person will react to any supplement or dietary change, as each individual is unique and there is immense variation between people within a population. So this article should serve as an informative template. Use the information I’ve provided here as the template that can guide you to become more educated on the topic, have more control over your health care as a basis for a discussion with your doctor, and most of all to help improve your life. None of the information provided her should be used irresponsibly, or in a manner that could be detrimental to your own or another’s health.
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