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On November 28, 2013, in Hormones, MEDICAL FACTS, by Dr. Tuchinsky
Role of DHEA in female hormone pathway
Role of DHEA in female hormone pathway

About a year ago, I have finally decided to test my DHEA-S (DHEA-sulfate) level.  DHEA supplements are claimed to be the fountain of youth by those who manufacture them but are dismissed as unsupported claim by traditional practitioners and not well supported by scientific studies. I was skeptical but when you are faced with a never-ending struggle against chronic fatigue, you become willing to try anything once, even against sound advice.


My DHEA-S level came back ridiculously low, in the range of an 80 year old and I’m in my 30s. Why was it so low? The only explanation I can come up with is that the adrenal fatigue may be real after all and after years of stressful hospital work, poor diet, minimal sleep and two difficult pregnancies, my adrenals have indeed given up on me.  I was concerned and consulted with a highly respected endocrinologist. He assured me that I had nothing to worry about and DHEA level didn’t really matter. He was an old school endocrinologist and did not think that a woman of my age would really need the testosterone in the first place.

Nevertheless, I went to the store and got myself a high quality DHEA supplement. I figured there was no harm in trying. As recommended by most experts, I’ve started myself on a very low dose of 25 mg (a doses of 50-100 mg per day are the most common).  In the next two days I have discovered that just because something is labeled a “supplement”, it doesn’t mean it won’t have a dramatic effect on your body. It’s ironic that with all the strict reinforcements applied to anabolic steroids, the FDA allows DHEA pills to be sold without prescription and without any regulations or warnings. Here’s what happened next:

My DHEA starved body readily gulped up the new supply and within 48 hours I was learning for myself the meaning of expression “testosterone rage”. I felt wired, irritable and aggressive.  There is no doubt in my mind that my free testosterone has made a rapid jump that my body and brain weren’t prepared to handle.

So I backed off, did more online research and this time ordered a micronized sublingual DHEA at 5 mg starting with 2.5 mg every morning and then worked my way up to 5 mg per day in divided doses.

Folks, let me tell you something: Don’t believe anyone who tells you DHEA doesn’t work because it does. It’s some really powerful stuff. Quite frankly, it probably should be a controlled substance. I read somewhere that the only reason it’s allowed to be sold as a supplement is because of the aggressive lobbying campaign undertaken by the health supplement in the early 90s.

When used carefully and in the right amounts and circumstances, DHEA can be life changing for those who suffer from adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance. Within a week or two, my brain fog cleared and my motivation level went back up (remember, testosterone is the hormone of motivation). I felt a lot more like my normal self back in my twenties despite the fact that on repeat testing three weeks later my DHEA-S level was still only in the low normal range. (Let me forewarn you – if you have been tired for a long time and suddenly feel normal again, don’t do the same mistake that I did, e.g. don’t try to catch up for the dormant months or years by jumping into way too many projects and activities all at once, it will backfire!)

For me, the most remarkable and indisputable effect of DHEA was the ability to exercise. In the past, my exercise tolerance was poor, I hated exercise and every time I went to gym, I would feel broken for a week afterwards. Not anymore. Now I can finally relate to all these claims that exercise makes you feel good. I also feel that my hormones and my moods are more balanced and my premenstrual syndrome has become a lot less severe (DHEA also gets converted to estrogen and progesterone as you can see on the chart above).

So what about all these studies out there who claim there is no benefit to DHEA? I think the problem with studies is that they look at the average rather than individual data. They are not specific to females who suffer from fatigue and have very low levels of DHEA. I suspect that if you are a male or if your DHEA levels are not significantly below normal, then you probably will not benefit from DHEA supplementation as much I did. In fact, pushing your DHEA level too high may be  harmful to your body or can make you manic, leave alone the unwanted side effects of too much testosterone, such as facial hair and acne.

> Bottom Line:

1)   If you are a female and suffer from fatigue, mood swings, low exercise tolerance, low libido and low motivation you should have your DHEA-S level checked

2)   If your level is significantly low, you should consider DHEA supplementation. Do not take DHEA without testing your levels first. It’s probably best to find a medical practitioner to help guide you in the process.

3)   Start low and go slow to avoid the unpleasant side effects. Consider micronized sublingual DHEA for better absorption.

4)   Continue repeat testing to make sure you achieve the optimal range (somewhere in the middle of the normal range for your age and gender).

Related Reading: “Birth Control Pills and Fatigue”
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