DHEA - dehydroepiandrosterone
DHEA is an abbreviation for dehydroepiandrosterone and is commonly referred to as the “mother of hormones” from which the body produces: testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and some 15 other hormones that are essential for good health. Produced by our adrenal glands it is a critical building block and serves our bodies in many ways.
After cholesterol, DHEA is the second most abundant steroid molecule in humans.
Adequate levels in the blood stream help balance the production of sex hormones, build lean body mass while reducing fat tissue control stress, maintain proper mineral levels and more.
However, the classification of DHEA as a hormone is controversial; whereas hormones tend to be held in reserve in the gland which produces them and are secreted into the blood as needed. DHEA is produced by the adrenal gland, not held there. As soon as DHEA is made, it is sent out into the blood to be used in cellular metabolism.
Our bodies produce DHEA in abundance until we are about 20 years old but levels decrease as we grow older. Researchers believe that these declining levels coincide with increased incidence of: Alzheimers (and the aging process itself), atherosclerosis, cancer and heart disease.
This ability to block fatty tissues may turn out to be the most significant weight control method in the future.
According to Dr. Norman Applezweig, a biochemist, DHEA de-excites the body's processes and some of the diseases of aging caused by runaway production of nucleic acids, fats and hormones. DHEA regulates their production, thereby slowing down aging.
While the medical establishment watches from the sidelines, some progressive members, like Dr Julian Whitaker, feel more confident about endorsing its use by patients. In his newsletter, 'Health & Healing', he writes: "the number of areas in which supplemental DHEA is helpful is almost alarming, because it covers such a broad range.” Several nutritionists, notably Dr. Richard Passwater, say that: 'Anybody over 25 should be supplementing their diet with DHEA'
Dr. William Regelson, a noted antiaging researcher “I’m seventy (he looks twenty years younger than he is), it’s like somebody out there has a contract out there to kill me. I do not want to wait twenty or thirty years. I want it now!”
Conditions which may benefit from DHEA supplementation
Fat Loss Without Dieting
Method of Action
DHEA was originally dismissed as a precursor to more important sex steroids.
Back in 1986, Dr. E. Barrett-Connor, concluded that the DHEAS (sulfate form) concentration was independently and inversely related to death from any cause and death from cardiovascular disease in men over age 50.
It now seems to have important functions of its own, which Regelson has termed: "state dependent": meaning that DHEA is capable of expressing its action only within particular physiologic settings, independent of a specific end organ. The presence of an infection is required for DHEA to exert its immunoprotective effect.
Currently, one way to obtain DHEA in a natural food form is from the Dioscorea yam.
50 years ago, American scientists discovered that a rare Mexican plant called Dioscorea, or Mexican yam, contains the basic DHEA compound in precursor. This rare tuber must be gathered in the wild, because it has not been successfully cultivated.
Although science has known about Dioscorea all this time, its significance has only been fully recognized during the past 8 years.
Natural or synthetic?
In fact the Mexican wild yam is not one of the edible varieties, possessing a very bitter taste but it has been important, medicinally, for thousands of years in traditional medicine in China and the Americas.
For over three decades, the wild Mexican yam was the sole source of the diosgenin used in the manufacture of oral contraceptives, accounting for over 200 million prescriptions each year.
The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recognizes wild yam root as a: spasmolytic, mild diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and cholagogue; specifically indicated in the treatment of the following conditions:
Research briefs are sampled in their own section. An overview is provided here, by way of introduction.
Numerous studies show that when DHEA was fed to mice it increased their life expectancy by a third. The treated mice seemed younger and had a lower incidence of the typical diseases of aging. It reduced the risk of breast, colon, and lung cancer in mice. According to biochemist, Dr. Norman Applezweig, DHEA de-excites the body's processes and some of the diseases of aging caused by runaway production of nucleic acids, fats and hormones. DHEA regulates their production and thereby slows down aging. It is this aspect of the hormone that is the culmination of many of the specific conditions discussed above. In this era of “baby boomers’, any substance that retards the aging process will inevitably prove popular. DHEA appears offer hope to millions in their quest for the elixir of youth.
Individuals with higher DHEA sulfate levels live longer.
Alzheimer’s patients showed DHEA levels 48% lower than non-Alzheimer's patients.
Increasing DHEA in elderly patients improves memory function.
As far back as 1962, researchers in England (Bulbrook, 1962, 1971) reported in the Lancet that DHEA was abnormally low in women who developed breast cancer. In a study on 5,000 apparently healthy women, it was found that all the 27 of the women who developed and died of breast cancer had blood levels of DHEA less than 10% of the norm for their age group. Furthermore, it took up to nine years before their cancer was diagnosed.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1986) Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, M.D (University of California School of Medicine in San Diego) observed DHEA levels in 242 men ages 50 to 79 for twelve years. In men with a history of heart disease DHEA levels were significantly lower than men with no history of heart disease. Further , she and other researchers concluded that even in people without heart disease, DHEA seems to protect against early death
At John Hopkins Medical Institute rabbits with severe arteriosclerosis were treated with DHEA had an almost 50% reduction in plaque size.
Individuals with higher DHEA sulfate have a much lower risk of heart disease.
Some forms of cancer are hormonal in nature (e.g. Breast).
Other hormonal changes are associated with such problems as:
Female athletes (hypercortisolism)
Immune system enhancement
DHEA has been shown to confer a special protection against viral infections. The "Harvard Health Letter" reported that DHEA added to vaccines helps older mice develop the same vigorous anti-bodies as young mice.
DHEA has been shown to increase dramatically in response to HIV infection. In 1991, researcher William Regelson reported that people with HIV virus do not seem to develop full blown AIDS until their body’s output of DHEA falls. He also found that HIV-positive men with low DHEA levels had double the risk of getting full blown AIDS compared to those with normal DHEA levels.
The antiviral properties of DHEA appear to work via the adrenal and thymus glands as well as the spleen.
Other immune-related diseases which could benefit from DHEA include:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Dr. Ward Dean states in his book, “Smart Drugs and Nutrients”, that brain tissue is normally saturated with over 6 times more DHEA than the bloodstream. By age 70 men and women have often lost 70 - 80% of their former DHEA levels. This figure increases if there is a disease state, such as Alzheimer’s, who may lose half as much again! Indeed, during some morbid conditions, as they near death, DHEA levels in some patients may fall below 5%.
An interesting example is cited by Dr. Kenneth Bonnet, a research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. Within one week of low doses of DHEA, a 47-year-old woman with lifelong multiple learning disabilities and low memory retention showed an improvement in recall ability. Upon increasing the dosage, tests showed a more advanced ability to recall with an increase in long-term memory.
DHEA has been shown to improve memory in aging mice according to Dr. Robert Atkins (Health Revelation January 1994). Animal experiments have demonstrated that even minimal amounts lessen amnesia and promotes long-term memory. Research on using DHEA against Alzheimer's disease showed that blood levels of DHEA in a group of Alzheimer's patients to be 48% lower than the control group.
Fat Loss: DHEA increases the body's ability to convert food into energy, not only burning off excess fat but preventing fat accumulation in the first place.
Weight loss is significant, without any change in diet or exercise.
Arthur Schwartz (Temple University in Philadelphia) found that DHEA blocks an enzyme, leading him to conclude: "DHEA is a very effective anti-obesity gent."
Animal studies suggest that DHEA may be effective in treating obesity. In a strain of mice with a predisposition to obesity, administering 500 mg per kilo of body weight prevented the development of obesity. What is also important is that since it causes no loss of appetite it indicated that the effect of DHEA was to speed up metabolism. Calories consumed were simply converted to heat rather than stored as fat. At the same time, it helps the body to produce lean muscle tissue. (Yen, 1977). “One of the reasons for the great interest in DHEA is its apparent[parent ability to lower body weight regardless of caloric intake” says Dr. Neecie Moore.
A study undertaken in Belgium found that levels of DHEA correspond with bone mineral content i.e. lower levels with low minerals and higher levels with high bone mineral content.
Blood levels of women proved to be an accurate predictor of bone density loss and even the rate of loss.
Native American women resorted to the wild yam to relieve the pain of childbirth.
The wild yam was used by Blacks in the South as a potent treatment for rheumatism.
The market position of DHEA has also remained confusing, so that some people may still think that it is available only by prescription.Abstracts
DHEA, like vitamin C or any other nutrient, is available on prescription but not exclusively so. It is a nutritional supplement available over-the-counter, or via mail order. However, only a physician can order the blood tests to determine blood levels of natural DHEA upon which basis a therapeutic protocol should be founded.
Current research involves multiple sclerosis and lupus, for example. Such conditions are normally under the care of a physician, anyway. DHEA nutritional supplementation applies more to a broad-spectrum anti-aging strategy in the absence of chronic disease. If you are under the care of a physician, it is always, prudent to mention your intended nutritional supplementation program in case of any potential for negative interactions.
The prescriptions are usually given for between 50 and 500 mgs per day, according to present and hoped-for therapeutic blood levels.
Dr. Lee has contributed the standard reference work. He suggests 100 mg for aging. Dr. Shealy goes as high as 4,000 mg for multiple sclerosis.
The organic precursor (Dioscorea/Mexican Wild Yam) is also enjoying commercial success in a dozen different products.
DHEA supplements are highly recommended by several eminent nutritionists.
In his newsletter, 'Health & Healing', Julian Whitaker, M.D. says: "the number of areas in which supplemental DHEA is helpful is almost alarming, because it covers such a broad range of diseases. When blood levels of DHEA are increased to the level you had at a younger age, many diseases just melt away. The body seems fully capable of using supplemental DHEA, as if it were processed in the body".
Famous nutritionist Dr. Richard Passwater say that: "Anybody over 25 should be supplementing their diet with DHEA."
Dr. Raymond Daynes, M.D. sounds a note of caution: "This a serious hormone that should not be taken indiscriminantly until more is known about its long-term effects on the body."
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