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In this month’s Endocrine Health Spotlight: What is DHEA?

By Jennifer Kohler, MS, FNP-BC, CLC

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a sex hormone that is primarily made by your adrenal glands. A small amount of this hormone is also produced in the brain and in your skin, men also secrete it from their testes. DHEA is a precursor to the production of several other hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. DHEA production often peaks in your 20s and then starts declining after 30 years old and continues to decline with age. By the age of 70, your production of DHEA is usually less than ¼ of the amount that your body had made when it was younger.

DHEA has many important metabolic functions in our body and is popular with athletes for its role in helping maintain muscle mass, repair muscles, and decrease body fat by utilizing glucose more effectively. In fact, the NCAA has added DHEA supplements to the list of banned substances, however, this is very controversial because it does not work like an anabolic steroid in causing abnormal muscle growth.

DHEA production and supplements have been linked to decreasing inflammation, aiding in lowering diabetic risk, lean muscle maintenance/growth, improving bone density, helping libido, and improving cognition to name a few benefits. While there are a lot of benefits of DHEA, the supplement should be used with caution and is not recommended for certain health conditions (certain cancers), young people, or certain medications. As always, because we are all individuals, the way it may affect your body can differ from one person to another.

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