The search for a magical
anti-aging potion may have ended with the discovery of DHEA ... at least
that's what some people think. Others think of it as a modern day "snake
oil" that claims to cure everything with no real evidence that it works.
Some experts think it may significantly lengthen your lifespan. One of the
first studies on DHEA claimed that men who increased their DHEA levels
reduced their risks of death from any cause by 36 percent and their risks of
death from heart disease by 48 percent.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone that acts like a chemical
chameleon in your body, changing according to your needs. It is sometimes
called the "mother hormone" because your body converts it into whatever
hormone it needs most at the moment, like testosterone, estrogen, or
DHEA also shows its versatile nature by producing different results under
different circumstances. For example, men who take it seem to lose weight
while increasing muscle, but women don't, at least not in the studies so
Levels of DHEA peak around age 20 and then decline steadily throughout the
rest of your life. In fact, DHEA levels are known to be one of the most
reliable measures of aging. Many scientists think that older people may be
able to bring back their youthful vitality by
increasing the amount of DHEA in their bodies.
Softens the blow of "male menopause." At a certain age, a
woman's reproductive system shuts down, sending her hormones into a
tailspin. Although men don't experience a crash in hormone levels like
menopausal women, their hormone levels do decline with age. They also lose
muscle mass and bone mass. Their testicles shrink, their sperm production
slows, and most men begin to experience at least occasional impotence. Many
experts call this period "andropause" or "viropause." Some doctors prescribe
testosterone replacement therapy for men experiencing viropause, but
testosterone is expensive and requires a prescription. DHEA may provide an
alternative to drug therapy.
Although both men and women produce DHEA, like testosterone, it is
considered mostly a male hormone. Because DHEA helps your body produce
hormones, particularly testosterone, it can have similar, although milder,
effects. It supposedly helps improve mood, boost sex drive, increase muscle
mass, and strengthen your immune system. Not all of these benefits have been
proven, however, and the long-term effects of DHEA sup. plementation are not
known. One study found that DHEA caused severe liver damage in laboratory
rats. Whether it would have the same effect on humans is not known, but this
should be considered when making the decision to take supplements.
Controversy over DHEA can be compared to the controversy over estrogen
replacement therapy. Estrogen replacement has many benefits for women trying
to get through menopause, but it also has proven risks. Women and their
doctors must weigh the benefits against the risks when deciding whether to
begin estrogen therapy. Perhaps men will now have to face those same
difficult decisions when considering supplementing with DHEA.
Stops heart disease cold ... for men. Heart disease cuts short
the lives of more men than any other disease. According to the American Heart Association,
almost half a million men die from heart disease each year in the United
States alone, accounting for over 40 percent of deaths. Cancer, which is the
second leading cause of death, accounts for only about 25 percent of deaths
in men. DHEA may be able to cut heart disease risk in half, allowing more
men to enjoy life a little while longer.
Several studies have found that DHEA can reduce the risk of death from heart
attack. A 12-year study among men ages 50 to 79 found that an increase in
DHEA reduced the risk of death from heart disease by almost half. Another
study that followed men ages 30 to 82 for 19 years resulted in similar
findings. However, this same study found that high levels of DHEA resulted
in a small increase in risk of heart disease death in women.
Battles breast cancer ... sometimes. In keeping with its
chameleon-like qualities, DHEA may either increase or decrease the risk of
breast cancer. According to researchers, high levels of DHEA may protect
against breast cancer in premenopausal women, but after menopause, high
levels of DHEA can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.
Obliterates obesity? DHEA may help keep your pet rat or dog from putting on
excess pounds, but can it help you? Animal studies have discovered that DHEA
reduces body fat, and many people who take it agree, even though the
evidence for this reported benefit is skimpy. The few studies that suggest
DHEA reduces fat while preserving lean body mass are more favorable to men
Ditches diabetes? DHEA may help treat non-insulin-dependent diabetes. People
with non-insulin-dependent diabetes have increased insulin resistance. This
means their bodies are insensitive to insulin, and the insulin can't do its
job properly, which is to move glucose from your blood into your body's
cells to be used as energy. One study on the effect of DHEA in diabetics
found that it improved insulin sensitivity by about 30 percent.
Builds better brains. Quick! Can you remember what you had for lunch last
Tuesday? If you can't remember, maybe you need more DHEA. Research has found
that DHEA improves memory in mice and increases the
speed of brain functions. This could indicate that DHEA may help you think
faster and remember longer. Brain tissue contains more DHEA than any other
part of your body, so adequate levels of DHEA may be particularly important
to your brain. Studies also show that people with Alzheimer's may have
almost 50 percent less DHEA than people who don't have Alzheimer's.
Enhances immune system. As you age, you become increasingly susceptible to
infectious diseases. Studies show that DHEA may strengthen your immune
system by controlling stress hormones. Other studies find that DHEA may
increase the effectiveness of vaccines for diseases like influenza in