Quick query: which steroid hormone is found in the greatest supply within the body of young human males? If you said testosterone, you probably are not alone. Judging by the recent abundance of commercials shilling the idea that low testosterone levels are epidemic among older men, it is certainly reasonable to assume that testosterone is the Fountain of Youth and Holy Grail all rolled into one. The correct answer, however is dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
It was only in 1934 that DHEA was initially discovered and at the time researchers could determine no immediately obvious necessity for its presence within the body. So what exactly is the hormonal deal with DHEA? It’s a steroid hormone that is produced by older men and even by women. Just not to the abundant degree that it is produced by younger men. The single most important thing to know about DHEA, probably, is that as a natural hormone produced physiologically, there is absolutely no way to increase the levels of DHEA in the body through diet. You can increase the levels of vitamins and minerals in your body through diet, but not DHEA, so instantly check any email that makes claims to the contrary as they try to sell you some great through dietary break through.
So, if you cannot increase the levels of DHEA through diet and the levels of produced by the body top off before you hit middle age, then why are you seeing the letters DHEA on products when you go to the drug store? It’s kind of complicated. Here is the one hard and fast rule about the sources for increasing levels of the steroid hormone DHEA. There is only one natural source for production of DHEA and that is the adrenal glands inside your body. From that point, the complication expands because the adrenal glands production of DHEA involves a hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland called ACTH which just so happens to need something called adenosine monophosphate (AMP) in order for everything to be properly managed. But let’s break this whole complicated process down to something else easy to understand: when AMP levels rise, DHEA production increases.
Now while the adrenal glands are the only place in the world that naturally produces DHEA, the whole weird world of DHEA supplements and the big scam known as “natural DHEA” centers upon the fact that there are chemicals found in yams and soy that are capable of being transformed into what you might term unnatural DHEA. But didn’t I just write that you can’t increase levels of DHEA through diet? Yes, I did. And you still can’t do that even if you were to eat nothing but yams and soy. Because, you see, while it is true that chemicals found in yams and soy can be synthesized to produce DHEA, that synthesis cannot take place naturally. But scientists working in labs can do what nature cannot.
So, you may ask, what’s the big deal. You just head down to the drug store and buy yourself a batch of those DHEA supplements created by smart science-y type guys in some lab. Right? No biggie. Suddenly, you are enjoying all the benefits of a steroid that is produced naturally by your body in huge amounts if you are a young guy. If you are an old guy, it’s go time. Right? And if you go by anecdotal evidence, taking DHEA supplements can help you lose weight, get through menopause, battle depression, get over fatigue and even stick it to your insurance company that refuses to cover the cost of Viagra. Everything is good.
Except that the world of DHEA supplements is complicated. The FDA hasn’t affirmed that taking DHEA in supplement form can help with any of those things. And even those synthesizing the chemicals in yams and soy to make DHEA supplements can’t agree on how much dosage it takes to perhaps bring about those wonderful results. The point?
Be careful out there if you are thinking about taking a chance on supplemental DHEA.